Thursday, June 29, 2023

Gidget ( 1959 )

Gidget, directed by Paul Wendkos, is a delightful coming-of-age film that captures the carefree spirit of surf culture in Southern California during the late 1950s. Sandra Dee stars as Francie Lawrence, a young girl who unexpectedly falls in love when her friends take her to the sunny beaches of Malibu on a "manhunting" trip. She is considered "square" by her friends because, up until this summer, her extracurricular activities involved playing the cello and making straight A’s in school. While they lament little Francie's hopelessness of ever catching a boy, Francie catches a new love instead - surfing! 

"Honest to goodness, it's the absolute ultimate!"

Francie pleads with her parents to get the money to purchase a used surfboard and then enthusiastically joins the male-dominated surfing community and gets rechristened "Gidget" ( Girl + Midget ) by her fellow surfers. 

Francie is treated just like one of the guys and loves it, yet she is beginning to think something is wrong with her because she isn't wild about boys the way her friends are. But, as her mother predicts, she simply has not yet met "the one".....until she sees Moondoggie that is. Francie then tries her own technique of manhunting to try and reel in the ultimate catch at the beach. 

Gidget was released in the spring of 1959 and made quite a splash when it first hit the screen. Sandra Dee was launched to stardom and the surfing fad that was in its infancy when the film was made would become the "Big Kahuna" of teen crazes within a few short years. The surfing lifestyle with its surf music, surf wagons, surfing shorts, surfing tees, and surfing tans was all the rage by 1965. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello helped popularize this Hawaiian import in films such as Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo but before they were out there having fun in the warm California sun, little Francie Lawrence was discovering the joys that could be had with a wooden board and demonstrating to teenage girls across America that it was a sport that even girl midgets could master. 

Gidget was based on the 1957 novel of the same name, penned by screenwriter/novelist Frederick Kohner. He was simply writing about the exploits of his own teenage daughter and the summer she fell in love with surfing. Little did he realize that this story would be so endearing that it spawned two follow-up feature films ( Gidget Goes Hawaiian and Gidget Goes to Rome ) and a popular 1965 television series ( Gidget starring Sally Field ). 

For many, Sandra Dee's portrayal of Gidget is considered the best. She was flat-chested and tomboyish but cute and cuddly at the same time. At least, Moondoggie certainly found her appealing. For teeny-boppers, the main draw of the film was Moondoggie himself, played by James Darren. What teenage girl couldn't relate to being stuck on the most handsome boy at the beach? Columbia Pictures certainly hit the jackpot when they signed this dreamy youth to a contract. He not only looked like a Greek god but could sing and act, too. Darren's rendition of the title song hit the Billboard charts at #89 in April of 1959. 

The Four Preps did a marvelous version of the Gidget theme for the opening credits of the film, setting the lighthearted mood of the picture. They appear in the flesh later in the film performing "Cinderella" during the luau scene. One of the members of the group was Glen A. Larson who later produced a number of popular television series ( The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Buck Rogers in the 21st Century ).

Like many Columbia Pictures productions, Gidget had a great cast filled with pros such as the versatile Cliff Robertson who gives a solid performance as the world-wary lost soul known as Kahuna, and Arthur O'Connell and Mary LaRoche as Gidget's parents. Mary LaRoche later played mother to another teenage daughter going through a phase as Mrs. McAfee in Bye Bye Birdie ( 1963 ). 

"Mom, I could perish! I could perish with shame. Last night, after all those hours of concentrated effort, I come home as pure as the driven snow."

While Gidget is primarily a colorful teen beach romance flick, it also subtly touches upon themes of empowerment and defying societal expectations. Gidget's determination to break free from gender stereotypes and pursue her passion for surfing probably served as an inspiring message for young girls. After all, Gidget proved that one didn't have to be a shapely model to catch a boy like Moondoggie.

Overall, Gidget is a timeless gem that continues to charm. Its endearing characters, picturesque visuals, and uplifting theme make it a delightful watch, especially for those seeking a breezy and nostalgic trip to the sun-soaked beaches of the late 1950s.

Friday, June 16, 2023

The Intruder Blogathon is Here!

Taking place this Father's Day weekend ( June 16th-18th ) is The Intruder Blogathon, a dear-to-our-hearts event because it showcases reviews of films that feature a theme loved by our own father: that of a character that comes into a main character's life unexpectantly to change it for the better ( e.g. Dudley in The Bishop's Wife ). He likes to call these people "intruders" because they usually come uninvited and yet their presence makes for a welcome change. 

The Intruder is a common character found in literature, plays, television episodes, and classic films. Now that you know what we are referring to, you will recognize this character often ( and will most likely have an Intruder come into your own life ).

Since our father suggested this theme for a blogathon - and since it is Father's Day weekend - we are dedicating this event to our beloved dad, Frank Metzinger. He homeschooled us when we were young, and has always been our mentor and our very best friend. He instilled in us a love of classic films and introduced to us so many wonderful titles spanning the 1930s-1980s. Most of his favorites have become our own and, not surprisingly, The Intruder has also become a favorite topic of ours! 

We have received a number of exciting entries for this blogathon and will be posting links to each blog's reviews as we receive them. ( Note to bloggers: we always accept late submissions as well ). Enough with the prattle and on with the posts! 


Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell ( 1951 )

Our own contribution to the blogathon is a review of a film that we believe epitomizes this theme. Mr. Belvedere is a character who comes suddenly into the lives of the inhabitants of the Church of John Home for the Aged and changes everyone he meets for the better. 

Anne of Green Gables ( 1985 miniseries ) 

Reelweegiemidget Reviews shares with us her review of a classic intruder tale, that of orphan Anne Shirley who comes to live with a couple on Prince Edward Island and endears herself to all whom she meets. 

Taking Up Room turns the spotlight on the cult sci-fi classic "The Queen of Outer Space" and how Earthlings can act as intruders to other planets. 

 Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy shares with us her review of the short-lived Western television series The Loner about a restless wanderer ( Lloyd Bridges ) and his escapades after the Civil War.

Whimsically Classic examines one of the most famous Intruder stories of all time, that of Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" in her delightful review of the classic MGM musical.

Ruth, over at Silver Screenings, posts a marvelous review of a period drama from MGM about a stranger ( Van Johnson ) who steps into the lives of a Confederate family during the post-Civil War days in Missouri.

Crítica Retro shares with us a look at the classic comedy Holiday and one of the most engaging Intruders to ever hit the screen: Johnny Case. 

The Wonderful World of Cinema gives us some wonderful insight into the character of Mr. Deed and the good deeds he did when he went to town in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. 

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell ( 1951 )

In 1948, 20th Century Fox released Sitting Pretty, a comedy featuring a character named Lynn Belvedere who was unlike any other that ever appeared in books, radio, or film. Belvedere was an author and lecturer and a very well-educated snob. He didn't just know a little bit about everything, he was an authority in every field. Mr. Belvedere was a bonafide genius and knew it. He was terribly vain and would make sure that everyone else knew he was a genius as well. 

"I have a very ordinary face. It's only my eyes that reveal my amazing intelligence."

Belvedere had a keen wit, a superior air, and a biting tongue that could quickly put others in their proper place: beneath him.

The one quality that Mr. Belvedere had and did not often boast about was his benevolence. Under his crusty exterior, he was a do-gooder at heart and delighted in helping those whom he deemed worthy of his aid. 

In Sitting Pretty, Clifton Webb portrayed Mr. Belvedere, and he was able to convey both of these sides of his nature brilliantly. Very few actors could have tackled this part, yet Webb did so easily and made Belvedere an all-around lovable character. 

Sitting Pretty had Mr. Belvedere take on the job of a nanny and attempt to prove that he could raise three rambunctious children better than their parents. The film was such a hit at the box office, that Fox followed it up with two more Mr. Belvedere pictures. 

Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell, released in 1951, was the third in the series and the best of the three. It was also unique for featuring a plot set in the unlikeliest of places - a nursing home. 

While on a lecture tour, Belvedere overhears some elderly people in a park complaining about life and their various ailments. The idea of getting old before his time intrigues him and he wonders whether there is "any point in living to be 80." 

Being the man of action that he is, he abandons his tour - much to the chagrin of his publicity agent ( Zero Mostel ) - and decides to enter himself into the Church of John Home for the Aged to see what life in a nursing home is like. Entrance isn't as easy as it seems for they do not accept people under 70. But fortune favors the bold and Mr. Belvedere is mistaken to be a Mr. Erwenter, a 77-year-old man who had already he simply assumes his identity. 

The inhabitants of the old age home welcome him with excitement because "Mr. Erwenter" isn't a bit like themselves. He has a zest for living and strangely enough, doesn't look like he is 77 years old at all!

"We're very happy to have you with us, Mr. Erwenter. It will make a nice change." - Nurse Harriet

"You've no idea how much of a change it will make!" - Mr. Belvedere

Belvedere's original intention in coming to the Church of John may have been to preview his future but once he arrives and sees the downhearted spirits of his fellow lodgers, he makes up his mind to become an instigator of change, an intentional gust of wind to stir their minds and blow new life into their dull and uneventful lives. 

Each of the inhabitants is touched in a profound way by this one man. Mr. Beebe ( Billy Lynn ) is especially affected by Belvedere's arrival. Mr. Beebe has no interest in life. He is waiting for spring, even while knowing that the spring to come will only resemble the winter that was. 

Mr. Cherry ( Harry Hines ) is downhearted, too. He eats the food that is set before him but wishes the church had the funds to buy him a new set of teeth. Ms. Hoadley drinks ( "Nobody has a right to be that happy, " a fellow lodger comments ); Ms. Sampler only talks of "love, love, love" and the three marriages she had; and saddest of all is Mrs. Hammer ( Doro Merande ) who hides her loneliness behind snarky - although amusing - remarks. 

"Eat and sleep, sleep and eat. The only action we get around here is in our stomachs."

Nurse Harriet ( Joanne Dru ) always has a cheerful smile and tries her best to tend to their needs and liven their spirits. "Someday we'll have a wonderful garden with green grass and pretty flowers," she says. "Flowers won't grow here. The whole place is old, even the ground. You ought to be ashamed to run an old dump," Mrs. Hammer replies. 

Harriet is in love with Reverand Watson ( Hugh Marlowe ) but he seems oblivious to her. The reverend wants the best for the elderly left in his charge but he has become so preoccupied with bills and the needs of the church that he has neglected their spiritual needs. 

"Bills, bills, bills! Religion has become so expensive, only the wicked can afford it."

They all need a shot of vitality and this is what Mr. Erwenter aka Mr. Belvedere provides in the form of a secret youth potion. He tells them of the days he spent with the great Lo Chin Po, a 112-year-old Tibetan, and how together they discovered a formula for restoring youth. "I will write to Lo Chin Po and ask him to send me some more pills for you," Mr. Erwenter announces. The excitement of the thought of being young again makes everyone come alive. 

Mr. Erwenter also arranges a bazaar to help the church raise money for Mr. Cherry's new set of teeth and Mrs. Hammer's appendix operation. He gives them all something to look forward to, a new lease on life. But the happiness they feel and their faith in Mr. Erwenter crumble suddenly when they discover that he is not Mr. Erwenter at all, but a 45-year-old author named Mr. Belvedere who has been "feeding us lies."

With a plot such as this you would imagine that Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell is a depressing film to watch. After all, it is set in a rundown nursing home filled with characters who are waiting to die. But it is quite the contrary - it is a gem of a comedy. The script, by Ranald MacDougall, is marvelously witty and benefits from having talented character actors deliver the lines with such humor. 

Doro Merande is especially wonderful in the role of bitter Mrs. Hammer. Most of the actors were much younger than the character they were playing but they tottered around looking convincingly old. Billy Lynn, as Mr. Beebe, gives a touching performance of a heartbroken old man. Like a child who just discovered that Santa Claus is only a fable, Mr. Beebe is hurt more so than the others by Mr. Belvedere's "betrayal" because he had the most faith in him.  

"Being young is the way you think! Live every moment as if it is going to be the last one you will ever have. Believe you're young and you will be young. That's my secret."

Hugh Marlowe is wonderful, as always, as the kindly minister whose life and outlook of life is changed by Belvedere's arrival, and Joanne Dru, as Harriet, is a lovely ray of sunshine in their bleak world. Also in the cast are Warren Stevens, Jane Marbury, and Hugh Beaumont as a policeman. 

The story was based on the play "The Silver Whistle" by Robert E. McEnroe, which featured a cheerful hobo named Wilfred Tasbinder who takes on the persona of Mr. Erwenter and helps the lives of those in a nursing home. Ranald MacDougall took the character of Belvedere from Gwen Davenport's 1947 novel and blended him into McEnroe's story, sprinkling the script with wry humor. 

20th Century Fox released a number of fine light-hearted comedies like this in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They all were given a healthy budget and a great production staff. Henry Koster ( The Luck of the Irish, Harvey ) was put in charge of directing Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell and he had a wonderful flair for making films that were both sentimental and humorous...and shared a message. This picture was ideal for his talents and featured a story about a beneficial intruder not unlike the leading characters found in The Bishop's Wife and Come to the Stable, both of which he directed. 

Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell has a beautiful message, too, about enjoying life and making every moment count. At one point in the film, Belvedere asks Harriet, "It's close to 10 o'clock now. 9 o'clock is gone and we can never bring it back and live it over. What have you done with the thousands of moments in the past two years?" This question is directed at Harriet and yet it is asked of the audience as well. Mr. Belvedere, in his vast 45 years of age, has lived a full life. In the one brief week he spends at the Church of John Home of the Aged, he stepped into the lives of the people there unexpectedly and touched each one with his presence. With the thousands of moments we all have, it makes you wonder if you cannot do the same and see how rich life can be. 

This post is our contribution to The Intruder Blogathon being hosted by yours truly, Silver Scenes, from June 16-18, 2023. Click here to read more reviews of films featuring characters that "intrude" in the lives of others and touch them for the better. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

What Leading Men Have Taught Madge Evans

One of the most sought-after leading ladies is Madge Evans. Although only twenty-five years old, she is really a “veteran” since she appeared on the screen at the age of six.

“Most of my knowledge of acting,” says Madge, “has been taught me by men. I believe that every masculine star with whom I have worked has contributed something to my training.”

Madge mentioned Ramon Novarro first. She made two pictures with him. Impossible Lover and Son of India.

“Ramon taught me more about charm than any other man. He taught me that with charm and grace any scene can be made effective.”

She said that during the production of Impossible Lover, she questioned the probability of a certain sequence, and suggested a change that was not agreeable with the director.

“Then Ramon told me a secret. ‘Play it,’ he said, ‘as if it were the most important scene in the world. Put everything you have into it. Tell yourself it’s the most beautiful piece of drama ever written, and act it accordingly.’

“Well,” said Madge, “I did, and it became the brightest sequence in the picture.”

She has been Robert Montgomery’s leading woman in three pictures — Lovers Courageous, Hell Below, and Fugitive Lovers.

“I learned much about the light touch from Bob,” Madge said. “It is natural with him. He employs it with suavity and grace.”

Madge cited an instance. When Lovers Courageous was being filmed she said she was afraid that parts of the story were too sentimental.

“But Bob’s acting circumvented this,” she said. “At just the right time, he would make a gesture or a funny little expression which would lighten the emotional burden and distract the audience.”

Otto Kruger’s chief charm for Madge is his voice. They played together in Beauty for Sale. Madge believes Kruger has more romantic appeal in his voice than any other man on the screen.

“The thrilling quality of his voice almost hypnotizes one into submission. In a love scene, when you’re in a man’s arms, you can’t be thrilled by the expression on his face or the light in his eyes — because you can’t see them. Your head is probably buried in his shoulder. But you can hear! And to hear Kruger’s voice is hearing the voice of all emotion.”

Madge named James Cagney next as a contributor to her dramatic education.

“Jim is a master at the art of pantomime. From him, I learned the use of my hands for expression. Jim has developed the art to such an extent that words sometimes seem superfluous.”

There is one thing which all these stars have, but which Lowell Sherman, in Madge’s opinion, has more of — the art of timing.

“At least, I learned it from him,” she said, “when we made The Greeks Had a Word For It. There were some excruciatingly funny lines in the picture, but on seeing the rushes each day I noticed that Lowell had somehow timed his lines so that laughter would never break in on dialogue.

“Yes, these men are fine actors,” she concluded, “and I shall never cease being grateful to them for what they taught me.”

The above article originally appeared in the 1934 issue of Film-Lovers Annual, published by Dean and Son, Ltd. Click here to read this article in its original context. 

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

We have been posting quite a number of tricky screenshots lately, so this month's movie capture is an easy one. That is, it's recognizable if you have seen the film - otherwise, it is still quite tricky!

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules of the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!


Congratulations to the Tactful Typist for correctly guessing this scene from "Stage Door" ( 1937 ) starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. In this scene, Lucille Ball and Eve Arden are waiting to see Adolphe Menjou in his office....quite a busy place!

Friday, June 9, 2023

From the Archives: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ( 1939 )

Mickey Rooney as Huck Finn poses with a "mess of fish" in this still photo from MGM's adaptation of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ( 1939 ). Jackie Moran played the character of Huck a year earlier in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :