Saturday, July 27, 2019

Gun Glory ( 1957 )

Philip Yordan's western novel "Man of the West" was brought to the screen in beautiful Cinemascope as Gun Glory ( 1957 ) with the great Stewart Granger taking on the lead role of Tom Early. 

It is 1880s Wyoming, and Early has just returned to the town he calls home after spending years away attempting to win a fortune gambling. He has gained an unwarranted reputation of being a gunslinger and is known in town as the man who "enjoys killing". Early is surprised when he goes to his homestead and discovers that his wife has died and his 17-year-old son ( Steve Rowland ) blames him for her death. 

Early wants to put away his guns, patch up his relationship with his son and return to ranching, but a local cattle baron named Grimsell ( James Gregory ) is bent on stirring up trouble instead. He wants to pass his herd of 20,000 cattle roughshod through the town's valley which will destroy many of the settlers' lands. Early warns the townspeople that they have the right to refuse him access to cross the valley but that Grimsell will not settle the dispute without a fight. After Grimsell attacks the preacher ( Chill Wills ) and his posse, Early decides to strap on his guns again and take on Grimsell single-handedly. 

"Men who live by the gun, die by the gun" - Preacher

"That depends on what kind of shot you are" - Early

Stewart Granger, in spite of being an Englishman, was well-suited to the western genre. He looked good on a horse and had that rugged come-and-tackle-me appearance. Granger himself loved the American west and, several years prior to making Gun Glory, had purchased a 5,280 acre ranch near Nogales, Arizona to breed cattle. 

He gives a solid performance as Tom Early, making him out to be quite a noble character even though he deserted his wife and son years ago. 

On its surface, Gun Glory appears to be a run-of-the-mill western, but there is a lot of depth to the characters and the relationships between them which gives the film its added appeal. The romantic angle is provided by the beautiful Rhonda Fleming who plays Jo, a young woman whom Early rescues from the leering eyes of storekeeper Sam Winscott ( James Aubuchon ). She needs a job and gladly accepts the task of being Early's "live-in" housekeeper. Naturally, in the seclusion of his homestead, love blossoms between the two.
Steve Rowland also gives a good performance as Tom's handsome son. He has to wrestle with his resentment toward his father and also his romantic feelings for Jo. Steve Rowland is the son of Roy Rowland, the director of Gun Glory. 

James Gregory is delightful as the brutish baddie and the lovable Chill Wills gets an especially meaty part as the gentle but courageous preacher. 

Also in the cast is Arch Johnson, Rayford Barnes, William Fawcett, Bud Osbourne, and an uncredited May McAvoy, a leading lady of the silent era. 

"There weren't any people here the last time I drove cattle through, too bad they're here now, but they're in my way..." - Grimsell
Philip Yordan had a reputation for being one of the best "script-doctors" in Tinsel Town. He himself worked uncredited on numerous films, patching up story plots and dialogue to make them play out better. He had an special knack for film noirs and westerns. Johnny Guitar ( 1954 ), Broken Lance ( 1954 ), The Man from Laramie ( 1955 ), The Last Frontier ( 1955 ) and The Bravados ( 1958 ) were all Yordan stories/scripts. Surprisingly, he did not write the screenplay to Gun Glory. Instead, William Ludwig got screen credit for the film even though it was written by screenwriter Ben Maddow, a talented writer who was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist.

Gun Glory is not one of the legendary westerns of the 1950s, but it ranks above many others for its fine script, great acting, beautiful color photography, and its entertaining ballad theme "The Ninety and Nine" sung by Burl Ives. 

This post is our contribution to Legends of Western Cinema Week being hosted by Along the Brandywine, Hamlette's Soliloquy and Meanwhile, in Rivendell. Be sure to click on this link to check out more reviews of films and actors of the western genre. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Tribute to a Bad Man ( 1956 )

"I was a boy when I entered Mr. Rodock's valley but when I left I wasn't a boy anymore. I had picked up a few pointers about how men died quickly and how they kept from dying quickly; how to be cruel and how not to be cruel; and what love isn't, and what it is."

Steve Miller ( Don Dubbins ), a Pennsylvania grocery boy, is heading west to carve out a new life for himself when he ventures into a Colorado valley in 1875 and rescues a horse rancher who was ambushed. This man is Jeremy Rodock ( James Cagney ), who not only owns the valley but all of the horses in it. 
In gratitude for saving his life, he takes Steve to his ranch and offers him a job as a wrangler. It is here, in Rodock's valley, that Steve grows into manhood, learning new skills, falling in love for the first time, and witnessing torture and the hanging of a man. 

Tribute to a Bad Man is an underrated western that has been passed by many a stagecoach over the years. It was based on the short story "Hanging's for the Lucky" by Jack Schaefer, an excellent western author who is most famous for penning the novel "Shane" in 1949. 

Spencer Tracy was initially cast in the role of Rodock but balked at working on a set built at such a high altitude ( it was filmed on location in Montrose, Colorado ) and generally proved to be such a nuisance to the director and cast that MGM fired him four days after shooting began. James Cagney was called away from his beloved Martha's Vineyard as a replacement and - as Robert Wise recalls - "couldn't have been any more different in terms of attitude than Tracy...taking Don Dubbins under his wing and was very helpful to Irene Papas."
Cagney had made only two westerns prior to this invitation but the genre, and this particular role, was a glove-fit for him. It is a tribute to Cagney's versatility as an actor that he was able to perform such a diverse array of characters throughout his career. He truly becomes Rodock and infuses the character with a tenderness under his crusty exterior that I doubt Tracy could have brought to the part. 

In spite of his bursts of cruelty, Rodock is never an unlikable figure. Jeremy is not really a "bad man" as the title implies. Cagney shows us that his goodness is always just beneath the surface. He is a fearful man; and in his acts of fear he has gained a reputation for being merciless, but as he puts it,

"We're living in the middle of nowhere. Two hundred miles from any kind of law and order, except for what I built myself. Ever since I started - and this you don't know - I've been badgered, skunked, bitten out and bushwhacked by thieves from everywhere. And now, one of my men's been killed. I find my horses, I find the killer. If I find the killer, I hang him."

Rodock is constantly bothered by horse thieves. Most of them are in league with his old partner Peterson ( James Bell ) who lives nearby with his wife ( Jeanette Nolan ) and son Lars ( Vic Morrow ). Peterson failed at ranching and, despising Rodock's determination and success, steals his plentiful horses. 

When injustice is done in his land, Rodock makes the men who threaten his territory pay the price of death - a death by hanging. But this act of vengeance costs the range baron dearly. "Hanging fever" could take hold of a man's soul and corrupt him for life. 

"If you'd only see what it does to you, Jeremy. It changes you."
Rodock is also threatened by his foreman McNulty ( Stephen McNally ) who has eyes for Jocasta "Jo" Constantine ( Irene Papas ) a young Greek immigrant whom Rodock rescued from a Cheyenne bawdy house where she was playing the piano. They have a living arrangement and a relationship agreement..... "I'm here as long as you'll have me."

Jo has no desire to leave Jeremy but in spite of her affirmations, he feels insecure and worried that she will desert him for any young man that wanders into the ranch...including Steve. 

Jeremy wants to have something or someone belong to him, fully. "A man oughta be able to have somethin', and believe he's got it. That it's his, that he ain't gonna lose it ever!" He lives in constant fear of knowing a rustler may take away his horses or that Jo will leave him. Rodock has relied on himself and his own instincts for so long that he is slow to trust. But "how can you invest your heart in someone if you don't trust?", Jo asks.

Tribute to a Bad Man is not your traditional western because the story of the horse thieves and Rodock's thirst for justice are merely side plots to the true focus of the film - Rodock's inner desire for security. He clearly wants to tear down his personal barriers when he is with Jo but that nagging insecurity holds him back. Little does he realize how much Jo loves him. This romantic angle to the story is what makes it so endearing to me. 

Western films have long had a tradition of featuring gentle romances, a slow blossoming of love between a hardened cowboy and a soft-spoken schoolteacher or minister's daughter. There is no sudden fierce outburst of emotion. There are no long courtship sequences. There is just an understanding look, a glance of sympathy, a touch of the hand. Robert Wise quickly establishes to the audience that Jeremy and Jo are in love with each other but he adds anticipation to the story by letting us witness the characters discover this for themselves. 

Irene Papas, a beautiful actress with striking classical Greek features, gives a strong performance in her Hollywood debut. Jocasta is an independent woman, an ex-saloon entertainer who likes to sass back at men, but Papas lends her character old-world understanding and soulfulness that makes her so very appealing. 
All-around the casting was excellent. Don Dubbins gives a wonderful performance as the gentle young Steve. James Cagney took such a liking to the lad that he was featured in Cagney's next picture, These Wilder Years ( 1956 ). McNally and Morrow are good as the bitter villains who would clearly like to shoot Rodock in the back, and a gathering of familiar western character actors were also rounded-up for support: Lee Van Cleef, Royal Dano, Chubby Johnson and James Griffith. 

"Maybe I ain't hard, maybe that's why. But Mr. Rodock, you didn't have to hang him."

Tribute to a Bad Man was filmed in Cinemascope by cinematographer Robert Surtees who beautifully captured the magnificence of the Colorado landscape. The film also features an expressive score by Miklos Rozsa which was woven throughout with Greek-inspired motifs. 
Robert Wise made only three westerns ( Two Flags West, So Big ) which leaves one to wonder how many fantastic westerns could have been added to the genre had he made them a focus of his career. Wise was such a professional director and Tribute to a Bad Man is evidence of the sure-hand that was holding on to the reins of the production. He structures the scenes in short sequences that play out naturally and are never overstuffed with emotion or action. The emphasis is always on visuals, which conveys the underlying message of the story so much more effectively. This is especially evident in the final sequence. In the hands of another director, this ending may have come off as schmaltzy, but instead it unfolds as one of the most satisfying - and beautifully photographed - conclusions to a western that I have ever watched. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Favorite Western Films - A Photo Collection

Legends of Western Cinema Week is taking place right now and since we love westerns, it was very difficult to decide which film/actor to write about for the event. We'll be taking part by contributing western reviews of two favorites: Tribute to a Bad Man ( 1956 ) and Gun Glory ( 1956 ).....but, since these two films are only a tiny, tiny, tip of the wealth to be mined in the western genre, we wanted to cover a broader range of films. Hence, a photo collection! 

Below you will find some of our favorite classic western films which, if you are unfamiliar with the genre, will aid you in mapping your way around the terrain or at least introduce you to a few new titles. 

The Big Trail ( 1930 ) 

John Wayne, Tyrone Power Sr, Marguerite Churchill

Jesse James ( 1939 ) 

Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, Nancy Kelly, Randolph Scott

Stagecoach ( 1939 ) 

John Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine

Tall in the Saddle ( 1944 ) 

John Wayne, Ella Raines, Ward Bond

West of the Pecos ( 1945 )

Robert Mitchum, Barbara Hale, Thurston Hall

Canyon Passage ( 1946 )

Dana Andrews, Susan Hayward, Brian Donlevy

My Darling Clementine ( 1946 ) 

Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Victor Mature, Walter Brennan

Angel and the Badman ( 1947 ) 

John Wayne, Gail Russell

Four Faces West ( 1948 )

Joel McCrea, Frances Dee, Charles Bickford

Broken Arrow ( 1950 )

James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, Debra Paget

The Outriders ( 1950 )

Joel McCrea, Arlene Dahl, Barry Sullivan

Rio Grande ( 1950 )

John Wayne, Victor MacLagen, Maureen O'Hara, Claude Jarmin Jr.

Rawhide ( 1951 ) 

Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, Dean Jagger, Hugh Marlowe

Bend of the River ( 1952 )

James Stewart, Julie Adams, Rock Hudson, Arthur Kennedy

Hondo ( 1953 )

John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond

The Man from the Alamo ( 1953 )

Glenn Ford, Julie Adams, Chill Wills

The Naked Spur ( 1953 )

James Stewart, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh

Shane ( 1953 )

Alan Ladd, Ven Heflin, Jean Arthur, Brandon deWilde

River of No Return ( 1954 ) 

Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Rory Calhoun

The Man from Laramie ( 1955 )

James Stewart, Cathy O'Donnell, Donald Crisp, Alex Nicol

The Tall Men ( 1955 ) 

Clark Gable, Robert Ryan, Jane Russell

Tribute to a Bad Man ( 1956 )

James Cagney, Don Dubbins, Irene Papas, Stephen McNally

Gun Glory ( 1957 ) 

Stewart Granger, Rhonda Fleming, Chill Wills

Cowboy ( 1958 )

Glenn Ford, Jack Lemmon, Dick York, Brian Donlevy

Fort Dobbs ( 1958 )

Clint Walker, Virginia Mayo, Richard Eyer

The Big Country ( 1958 ) 

Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, Carroll Baker

How the West Was Won ( 1962 ) 

Debbie Reynolds, Gregory Peck, Robert Preston, Carroll Baker

Ride the High Country ( 1962 ) 

Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Mariette Hartley

Lonely are the Brave ( 1962 )

Kirk Douglas, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau

Putting together this post made us realize that there are still hundreds of westerns for us yet to see ( and many more forgotten films from our past to revisit ), so it is certainly not complete! But that's the fun part about watching movies....there are so many films to explore. It's an endless form of entertainment! 

This post is our contribution to Legends of Western Cinema Week hosted by Along the Brandywine, Hamlette's Soliloquy and Meanwhile, in Rivendell. Be sure to stop by any of these blogs for a chance to win some western-themed prizes, participate in a tag, and read reviews of favorite westerns and western stars. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Special! The Moon ( 1969 )

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Neil Armstrong took those famous first steps upon the lunar surface for all of mankind on July 21, 1969. It was an unprecedented achievement that took years of research and experiments. It also took ten prior Apollo missions to make that eleventh project successful. 

This 3-minute British Pathe newsreel shows some fascinating footage onboard the Apollo 10 lunar module. The three astronauts - Thomas P. Stafford, John W. Young, and Eugene A. Cernan - could have become equally as famous as Neil Armstong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins of the Apollo 11 project, had they been chosen for that mission. Instead, they were aboard the Apollo 10 undertaking a mission that was vital to the success of the Apollo 11: a dress rehearsal. Their job was to do the entire Apollo 11 mission - just without landing - to make sure everything went well. Or as the announcer puts it:

"It was their task to prepare the way, to knock on the door of our neighbor but not to cross the threshold."
This task they successfully accomplished and within two short months of Apollo 10's rendezvous with the moon, the Apollo 11 mission was given the go-ahead and launched on July 16, 1969.

Ready to watch Special! The Moon? Simply click here. 

Other similar British Pathé clips:

Friday, July 12, 2019

Charlie Chan in Egypt ( 1935 )

In this eighth installment of the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan series, the famous Hawaiian detective sets off for Egypt to investigate the theft of archeological treasures....and unwraps a case of murder instead!

Detective Chan ( Warner Oland ) dons his sun hat and journeys to Egypt on behalf of the French Archeological Society to investigate the whereabouts of errant artifacts purloined from Professor Arnold's recent excavation of Ameti's tomb. Once he arrives, he discovers that Professor Arnold has left on an archeological dig weeks ago and sent only one mysterious letter in his absence. His son ( James Eagles ) and daughter ( Pat Paterson ) are both worried about him and for good reason... the following evening Charlie, along with Professor Thurston ( Frank Conroy ) and Arnold's young assistant Tom ( Thomas Beck ), discover his body concealed within the sarcophagus from Ameti's tomb!

"Varnish on 3000-year-old mummy case not completely dry." - Chan 

Screenwriters Robert Ellis and Helen Logan were making their series debut ( they would go on to pen nine Chan films ) and weaved an exotic mystery that combined all the elements audiences would hope to see in a Chan film set in Egypt: hot desert sands, an ancient Egyptian curse, a secret chamber in a tomb, and of course, mummies. 
Warner Oland is always delightful to watch as the honorable Charlie, but he seems lonesome here without the presence of his Number One son Lee to distract him in his investigation. Instead, to add humor, there is Snowshoes ( Stepin Fetchit ), a hired hand at the dig site who hopes to find his ancestors among the mummies. Also in the cast is a young Rita Hayworth ( billed Rita Cansino ) who has a small part as a maid at the Arnold residence. 

While Charlie Chan in Egypt boasts a great setting and is an entertaining entry in the series, it lacks the zip of some of the other Chan films. Most of the picture is set within the Arnold estate and grounds which gives it the confined feeling of a stage play and the suspects are not plentiful. The presence of Lionel Atwill or George Zucco as a shady antiquities dealer would have given the film the boost of an additional sinister suspect. But as Chan would say, "It takes very rainy day to drown duck". 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

From the Archives: The Valley of Gwangi ( 1969 )

This month's From the Archive photo isn't really from our archives but it was such a great shot we could not resist sharing it: James Franciscus and Gila Golan were captured in this candid snapshot on the set of The Valley of Gwangi ( 1969 ). This adventure film is most famous for its special effects which were created by Ray Harryhausen. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The American Spirit - 25 Films that Capture Our Love for America

Today is America's birthday, the day we celebrate our great nation's declaration of independence. We have so many reasons to be proud of America and one of the greatest treasures is growing up with such a rich history and culture, a culture so unique in itself and yet made up of so many other cultures and their traditions. 

So, to celebrate our love for our country, we put together a list of 25 favorite classics that encapsulate some of the things that we cherish the most about America - the beautiful parks, the vast size of our country, its rich history, the creative entrepreneurial go-getting spirit of its people, the rich variety of citizens, our freedom, and of course, the small towns that are the backbone of America. 

The films are listed in order of their plot's time setting...or at least, the closest decade we could squeeze them into. 

Plymouth Adventure ( 1952 )
Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, Leo Genn, Van Johnson

The story of the Mayflower and the first settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Hollywood likes to embellish history so this film was quite a mix of fantasy and fact - supposedly the captain of the Mayflower was in love with one of the passengers and was initially willing to dump his shipload of passengers in a port where they had little chance of survival. But look, all turned out well anyway!

Johnny Tremain ( 1957 )
Hal Stalmaster, Richard Beymer, Luana Patten, Walter Sande, Sebastian Cabot

Walt Disney's engaging retelling of a classic Esther Forbes children's novel about a young silversmith who witnesses events that, although apparently insignificant, will become the seeds to spark the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

How the West Was Won ( 1962 )
James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, Gregory Peck, Robert Preston, Henry Fonda, Agnes Moorehead, Carolyn Jones

This nearly three-hour-long epic spans decades in the history of Westward expansion and features just about every big-name actor in Hollywood ( "24 Great Stars" the posters declare ). Three directors ( John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall ) shared the responsibility of covering such vast terrain and the result is magnificent. The wagon trains heading west, the railroad empire of the 1860s, the Civil War, the rise of the Mississippi riverboat gamblers and the early days of San Francisco are all glorious 70mm Cinerama!

Gone with the Wind ( 1939 ) 

Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel, Thomas Mitchell

And speaking of epics.....Margaret Mitchell's excellent novel about the glory days of the South and the destruction of it through the Civil War was emblazoned on the screen in an adaptation that will never be equaled. You do not have to be a Southerner or even take one foot in the South to appreciate its unique atmosphere and the lifestyle of its people.  America's history would not be as special as it is if it were not for the great territorial divides in our country: the North, the South, the East, the West, all of which have a long history in themselves.
The Harvey Girls ( 1946 ) 
Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, John Hodiak, Virginia O'Brien, Preston Foster, Marjorie Main

After the Civil War, everyone was in a rage to head west either to claim land to settle or to strike it rich in gold. Fred Harvey was the smart man who knew that all these people would need a place to eat when they got there and so he started the famous Harvey chain of restaurants. This fun MGM musical tells the story of a band of intrepid waitresses at one of these restaurants back in the day. The carefree spirit of the film makes you want to board the Atchison, Topeka, and the Sante Fe and enjoy the wonders of the West yourself. 

Jesse James ( 1939 ) 
Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, Nancy Kelly, Randolph Scott, Henry Hull.

This movie - filmed in beautiful Technicolor - really white-washed the life of the famous outlaw and made him out to be a Robin Hood-like hero who just didn't know where to draw the line. It was filmed on location in Missouri and the scenes that take place in the woodlands really capture the beauty of our nation's parks. Henry Hull, as a newspaper publisher, enjoyed his right of "freedom of the press" and would speak about any issue that came to his mind, liberally peppering it with "dang it!"s.

Show Boat ( 1951 )
Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ava Gardner, Joe E. Brown

Another colorful MGM musical, this time celebrating the Mississippi riverboats of the South and the people who entertained onboard them....showboat folk. When William Warfield bellows "Ol' Man River" you cannot help but feel a great swell in your heart for the mighty Mississippi that keeps on "rollin' along". 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ( 1939 )
Mickey Rooney, Rex Ingram, Walter Connolly

There is something about the films of the 1930s that are so satisfying to watch and the ones that were set in small-town America are particularly engaging. This classic - based on Mark Twain's famous novel - was a remake of an earlier film starring Jackie Coogan. Mickey Rooney was perfectly cast as the mischievous Huck Finn. 

Annie Get Your Gun ( 1950 )
Betty Hutton, Howard Keel, Louis Calhern, Keenan Wynn

Buffalo Bill's Wild West show toured the world for nearly 30 years ( 1883-1917 ) showcasing feats of sharpshooting skill and horsemanship. It was like a circus celebrating the West and one of its biggest celebrities was Annie Oakley. This MGM musical ( based upon the Broadway show ) gives us a taste of what it would have been like to have been in the audience witnessing such a show - the thrill of the Wild West combined with the pageantry of a circus. Mark Twain once commented, "It is often said on the other side of the water that none of the exhibitions which we send to England are purely and distinctly American. If you will take the Wild West show over there you can remove that reproach." There is certainly nothing so American as a Wild West show!

Meet Me in St. Louis ( 1944 )
Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Tom Drake, Lucille Bremer

But a fair, whether it be a state fair or a world's fair, oozes with American charm, too. In Meet Me in St. Louis it isn't so much the fair ( we barely get a glimpse of it ) that gives this film its stamp of Americana but the setting - St. Louis at the turn-of-the-century. It was the age of trolleys, player pianos, corsets, white pinafores, and dandies wearing straw hats. What a wonderful era! 
Ah, Wilderness! ( 1933 )
Eric Linden, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, 

Eugene O'Neill's classic play about a young man and his coming-of-age in turn-of-the-century America was brought to the screen in this marvelous MGM adaptation directed by Clarence Brown. It's a sentimental tale that is set in a small midwestern town complete with a bandstand, a lover's bridge, pool hall, church, and town hall. It is Andy Hardy at the turn-of-the-century ( with practically the same cast )....I think that's why we like it so much. It is so wholesome. 

Pollyanna ( 1960 )
Hayley Mills, Richard Egan, Jane Wyman, Karl Malden, Agnes Moorehead

Speaking of won't find a more goody-two-shoes character than Pollyanna or a more perfect town than Beldingsville, Vermont. This classic, based on the 1913 novel of the same name, takes place during the course of one summer. The town picnic scene was always our favorite because - in spite of the great homecoming we have in our neighborhood - it pales in comparison to the Beldingsville park setting with its Japanese lanterns on display, the great "old lady" community band, and the giant piles of corn-on-the-cob and watermelon being served. Walt Disney made so many wonderful films that celebrated his love for America. 

The Late George Apley ( 1947 )
Ronald Colman, Edna Best, Richard Haydn, Peggy Cummins, Richard Ney

The Bostonians. They are as a nation onto themselves and this movie - set during the 1910s and based on the novel by John Marquand - wittily makes absurdities over the feeling of pride some of these people have in being born Bostonian and bred Bostonian. It is another great film that captures a slice of America lost in time. 

The Music Man ( 1960 )
Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Ronald Howard, Paul Ford

The small town of Madison, Iowa is the setting of one of the most famous American musicals ever made. The play's writer and composer, Meredith Wilson, lovingly made fun of the small town that he grew up in and he struck a chord with his audience because so many of us could relate to the people and incidents in the story - the comical mayor and his wife, the town shyster, the pretty librarian, and townfolk of all shapes and sizes. 

Yankee Doodle Dandy ( 1942 )
James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Rosemary DeCamp, Jeanne Cagney

All of those famous songs that we associate with America were written Irishman! But as the lyrics to Robert and Richard Sherman's "I'll Always be Irish" so aptly put it, "I'll always be Irish, 'cause that's how I began. I'll always be Irish, I'll say that to any man. And when I'm an American, I'll be a good one, too.I'll be truly as American as Irish stew!" That's what makes America so great. So long as they love this nation, the moment an immigrant steps foot in America they are as truly American as anyone else in the land. George M. Cohen was one of the greatest songwriters our country ever had and James Cagney ( an Irish-American himself ) brilliantly played him in this musical classic. 

Giant ( 1956 )
Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Mercedes McCambridge

Like the Bostonians, Texans like to celebrate their own history, too. Their "country", as they put it, is as great as any nation. George Stevens epic, based on Edna Ferber's novel, spans 40 years and inspires a love for Texas in all of us.  

Some Like it Hot ( 1959 )
Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, Joe E. Brown

The era of the bootleggers was not one of fun and games, yet Billy Wilder took such a setting and made it a belly-laughing comedy. Some Like it Hot not only celebrates the era of gangsters but also the birth of the Florida tourist boom and the days of the sprawling Floridian hotels ( even though the one featured in the movie happens to be located in southern California ). 

The Andy Hardy Series
Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker

Andy Hardy is as all-American as homemade apple pie and this delightful series, which spanned sixteen films, features everything we love about small-town America. The corner drugstore, the town picnic, the school prom, you'll find it all in Andy Hardy. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, adored the series and used it as a launchpad for many starlets including Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Donna Reed, and Esther Williams. 

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek ( 1944 )
Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton, William Demarest, Diana Lynn

Preston Sturges made some of the most delightful comedies of the 1930s and 1940s and most of them were very patriotic in his own way. This one was one of Sturge's best and is a Fourth of July favorite of ours. It tells the story of a young woman who wants to "kiss the boys goodbye" on their way to the front and finds herself pregnant after a wild night in town! Being kind to the soldiers has its limits. 

Since You Went Away ( 1944 )
Claudette Colbert, Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple, Robert Walker

There were so many excellent war films made right in the midst of the war that focused on the homefront ( e.g. The Best Years of Our Lives, The Human Comedy ) but Since You Went Away was one of the best to capture the emotions that spouses and children felt for the soldiers who went away to Europe. If you want to watch a tear-inducing drama that will inspire you to stand up and recite the pledge of allegiance than this is the picture to see. 

State Fair ( 1945 ) 
Dana Andrews, Jeanne Crain, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine.

A state fair! County fairs have their thrills but state fairs are so much grander. This classic Fox musical captures the thrill of going to a fair, the excitement of the mid-way and the people one meets there and the disillusions that may come the day after. 

The Greatest Show on Earth ( 1956 )
Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Carolyn Jones

And circuses! Who can pass up a circus! Unfortunately, due to Ringling Brothers' Barnum and Bailey Circus closing, many children now are not able to look back on fond memories of going to see a circus, so they'll just have to be satisfied watching films like this one and trying to imagine what the experience was like. Cecil B. DeMille does everything on a big scale and The Greatest Show on Earth is no exception. It's a magnificent film and he captured on film a slice of an era in America's history that will never come around again. 

Bye Bye Birdie ( 1963 )
Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Ann-Margaret, Bobby Rydell, Paul Lynde

Another great musical comedy that paints a pretty picture of small-town America. The era is now the 1960s and the theme is about rock-and-roll heartthrobs and the effect they have on "innocent" teenage gals, but the characters in the film are timeless. 
The Reluctant Astronaut ( 1967 ) 
Don Knotts, Joan Freeman, Leslie Nielson, Arthur O'Connell

The Andy Griffith Show captured small-town America on the small screen and, on the big screen, the Don Knotts comedies did the least, we've always thought so. The Universal backlot, home to the Munsters, the Hardy's, and so many television families, was Sweetwater, Kansas, the fictional town in The Reluctant Astronaut. Knotts, as Royal Fleming, becomes the local hero when he is shot up into outer space.