It Should Happen to You

It Should Happen to You, 1954, Columbia Pictures. Starring Judy Holliday, Jack Lemmon, Peter Lawford. Directed by George Cukor. B&W, 86 minutes.

Young and broke, Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday) dreams of a better life, better than “marrying the first man that comes along…or maybe the second.” She has been saving for the rather unusual goal of buying billboard space, where she plans to place her name and picture for all of New York City to see, believing fame will bring her what she wants.

She catches the attention of budding filmmaker Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon) while walking through Central Park one afternoon in her stocking feet.  The two hit it off, and when Pete tells her she may end up in one of his documentaries, Gladys is thrilled at the idea of being in the movies.

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Jack Lemmon, Judy Holliday

Later that day, she acts on her dream of fame and fortune and buys 90 days of billboard space. With her name in letters that seem sky-high, Gladys is on her way to the happiness she desires. Or so it seems, until the Adams Soap Co., which traditionally has purchased that same billboard space each year for the same three months, steps in. With negotiations designed to intimidate, Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford) works to get back what he sees as rightfully his.

In the meantime, Pete has moved into the same apartment building Gladys lives in, and the two begin a romance of sorts. Pete’s interest is obvious, while Gladys, although appreciative of his attentions, is more intent on seeing where the notoriety from the billboard can get her.

Judy Holliday portrays Gladys as a likable young woman who, despite her dreams of glory, is basically happy in life. Most importantly, she knows what she wants, although the path she believes will lead her there is perhaps ill-advised.

There are some wonderful lines in this film that reveal Gladys’ perceptive side and keep her from being merely a ditzy blonde. She is, in fact, more insightful than simple, and well-equipped to take care of herself in treacherous situations.  The script was written by Garson Kanin, who also wrote Born Yesterday and Adam’s Rib, two significant vehicles for Holliday’s career.

This was the first major film appearance for Jack Lemmon, who is at his best as the sincere, baffled man in love with a woman who is stubbornly pursuing a foolish goal. He stands in stark contrast to Lawford’s slick and sleazy character, a man who takes advantage of women as a matter of course.

Look for a delightful duet between Holliday and Lemmon, interspersed with conversation and casually confident piano-playing, one of the finest parts of the film.

judy-holliday-peter-lawford-in-it-should-happen-to-you
Judy Holliday, Peter Lawford

It Should Happen to You was nominated for one Academy Award, Best Costume Design (Black & White). It was well-received by both critics and audiences, and its popularity for classic film fans has grown in recent years with the onslaught of reality shows making the film’s mockery of being famous for being famous seem both prescient and insightful.

This is a movie with all the elements for a great comedy, and it delivers. The script is original and sharp, the performances by Holliday and Lemmon endearing, and the direction by George Cukor once again showing he knows how to bring out the best in both actors and a script. The better scenes are perhaps in the early parts of the film, but it remains charming until the heartfelt end.

Sabrina (1954)

Sabrina, 1954, Paramount Pictures. Starring Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Humphrey Bogart. Directed by Billy Wilder. B&W, 112 minutes.

The daughter of the Larrabee family chauffeur, Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) is in love with the younger of the two wealthy brothers, David (William Holden). The Larrabee family is one of the oldest and most established on Long Island, and Sabrina’s feelings go unnoticed by playboy David, but not by the rest of those in her immediate circle. Her father, anxious for her to stop daydreaming about the impossible, sends her to a cooking school in Paris, where she spends two transformational years.

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Audrey Hepburn

It’s a chic and sophisticated Sabrina who returns to the Larrabee estate, and this time, David does notice her. Yet she’s learning he may not be all she thought he was. Now it’s his older brother, the responsible, staid Linus (Humphrey Bogart), who is captivated by — and captivating — Sabrina. But their are still issues of class and pride to overcome.

Sabrina was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Actress, and won one, for Best Costume Design. Although the legendary Edith Head was responsible for the overall costume design, it was Hubert de Givenchy who influenced much of the design of Sabrina’s “after” look.

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Audrey Hepburn

Cary Grant was first slated to star as Linus Larrabee, but dropped out a week before filming began. In need of a star with as much draw as Grant, director Wilder approached Bogart, who agreed to take the role, one that was very much against type.

Tensions on the set between Bogart and his co-stars, as well as Wilder, were high throughout filming. He was rumored to be uncomfortable with the age difference between himself and Hepburn, and felt Holden was a “matinee-idol” actor rather than someone of his same caliber.

To further the off-screen drama, Hepburn and Holden began an intense affair, which ended in him proposing to her. Holden was married at the time and had a reputation for having affairs with his leading ladies, but it had never gone this far before. Hepburn, however, called off the relationship.

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Audrey Hepburn, William Holden

The movie was greeted with enthusiastic reviews. The New York Times called it “the most delightful comedy-romance in years,” and saying of the transformation of the play to movie, “a lot has been done with that fable of the chauffeur’s daughter and the rich Long Island men since Mr. Wilder laid hands upon it, including the writing of it into a script. And it is in the telling of the story in the motion picture from—and with a cast that includes Miss Hepburn—that the magical trick has been turned.”

The movie is magical, although the age difference between all of the stars is notable and at times disconcerting. This was only Hepburn’s second major film role (the first being her Academy Award-winning success the year before in Roman Holiday), and she is as chic and charming in Long Island as she was in Rome.

Harvey (1950)

Harvey, 1950, Universal Pictures. Starring James Stewart; co-starring Josephine Hull. Directed by Henry Koster. B&W, 105 minutes.

Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) is a naïve, yet oddly sage, man who would do anything for the family that wants nothing more than to hide him away from the world. Chiefly, they want him to keep his discussions about and with his best friend, Harvey, to himself. Harvey, you see, is a 6′ 3 -1/2″ invisible rabbit, or a “pooka,” a mischievous mythological creature .

His sister, Veta (Josephine Hull), among other things, is worried for her daughter’s prospects what with friends and neighbors hearing Elwood’s benevolent but strange talk about life…and a pooka. She arranges to have him committed to a local mental hospital, but in the process confesses to seeing Harvey herself at times. The admitting doctor (Charles Drake) takes note, and Veta is involuntarily placed in the hospital instead.

Josephine Hull in Harvey
Josephine Hull

Ultimately, it’s Elwood who sees to her release, but not before more confusion blurs the lines between doctor and patient, the sane and presumed insane.

Harvey won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Josephine Hull, and Stewart was also nominated for Best Actor. Both had played the same roles on Broadway, although Stewart was one of several actors to portray Elwood P. Dowd in the original run of the Pulitzer award-winning play by Mary Chase.

By contract, production on the film couldn’t begin until the play had closed that initial run. Once it did, director Henry Koster wanted to keep the movie as true to the play as possible, and to that end he hired Mary Chase to write the screenplay with Oscar Brodney. He also hired several other actors and actresses from the long-running (1,775 shows) play to reprise their roles in the film.

That was a wise decision. These may not be the best-known performers to filmgoers, but their work was seamless and the magic of Harvey was maintained on screen. This movie is light and funny on the one hand, gently thought-provoking on the other.

Charles Drake, Peggy Dow, James Stewart
Charles Drake, Peggy Dow, James Stewart

The play, which took two years for Mary Chase to write, received the fourth Pulitzer Prize for Drama to go to a woman (of the 86 such awards given to date, 15 have now been given to women). Chase reportedly was inspired to write the play to cheer a friend who lost her son in WWII, and it was said to be a difficult process for the experienced journalist and author.

Harvey has been remade multiple times, including a 1972 Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation again starring James Stewart. That version was a bit darker with Stewart playing his character with more edge, and the movie was not as well-received by audiences.

However, the original remains an enchanting, whimsical tale of a man able to see and speak his simple truth, and how, despite themselves, those in the world around him are drawn in by his utter conviction and pure belief.

 

 

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard, 1950, Paramount Pictures. Starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson. Directed by Billy Wilder.  B&W, 110 minutes.

Screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) is deep in debt, short on work and on the verge of losing his car to repossession. Determined to keep the latter from happening, he stashes the vehicle in the garage of a run-down mansion on Sunset Boulevard, which he quickly learns belongs to former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Norma, although more recluse than actress, has yet to accept she’s no longer queen of the silver screen, and her devoted servant, Max von Mayerling (Erich Von Stroheim), is painstakingly protecting her delusions of grandeur.

When Norma discovers Joe is a screenwriter, she hires him to work on her own messy script, which she believes will catapult her back into stardom. She has other plans for Joe as well, and soon ensnares him in a lurid personal relationship he finds he can’t easily escape.

In the meantime, Joe has reconnected with Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), an aspiring screenwriter herself, and romance is blooming between the two. As the two relationships collide, Joe is sent into a tortuous spiral, placating both the complicated, half-mad older woman and the bewildered younger one.

William Holden Nancy Olson
William Holden, Nancy Olson

This film is built on phenomenal cinematography, exquisite performances (watch Von Stroheim for a premier example of understated, heartbreaking emotion), a tightly woven script and keen direction by Billy Wilder.

Like so many films, Wilder, as director, went through several actresses before deciding on his star. Considered for the role of Norma were Mae West, Mary Pickford and Pola Negri, but once someone suggested Swanson, Wilder was intrigued. When she read for the part, he was sold.

The part of Joe Gillis originally was slated for Montgomery Clift, who declined shortly before production began, reportedly because he was afraid it would alienate his female fans.

William Holden, who’d been a contract player at Paramount for several years without making much of a splash, was cast instead when Wilder saw he was capable of greater roles than he’d been given.

Gloria Swanson
Gloria Swanson

Wilder, when asked about his inspiration for Sunset Boulevard,  said “I wanted to make things a little harder for myself…to do that thing which never quite works — a story about Hollywood.” This script was the last collaboration of the famed screenwriting duo Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.

Sunset Boulevard was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning three (Best Writing, Story & Screenplay; Best Art Direction-Set Direction (B&W); Best Music (Score of Dramatic or Comedy Picture).

It was also nominated for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress (Swanson); Best Actor (Holden); Best Supporting Actress (Olson); Best Suppporting Actor (Von Stroheim); Best Cinematography (B&W); and Best Film Editing.

Sunset Boulevard has achieved cult status, but it is more than that; it is a superb film looks into the darker parts of human nature and presents it in an entertaining and compelling manner, a remarkable feat few have accomplished.

 

Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday, 1953, Paramount Pictures.  Starring Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn. Directed by William Wyler. B&W, 118 minutes.

Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn), bored with the constraints of her royal life, breaks away from her entourage one night while on tour in Rome and meets Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), a down-on-his-luck American reporter. Ann is the heir to the throne of an unnamed European country, and Joe believes he’s happened upon the interview of a lifetime, one that will bring him back to New York and a “real” reporting job.

Joe doesn’t let on he’s a reporter, nor does he tell Ann that his friend Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) is a news photographer. The three embark on a Roman adventure that is romantic, eye-opening and enlightening, and finishes with a poignant ending true to the characters and story.

Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck
Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck

Filmed entirely in Rome, this is an elegant film with stars to match. It is funny as well; in addition to the surprising comedic talents of both Hepburn and Peck, Eddie Albert is a wonderful foil to Peck’s more serious, slightly staid reporter as the raucous photographer, and the movie is spotted with Italian character actors who add humor and charm all along the way.

The decision by director William Wyler to film in Italy was a novel one, and it brought that country to American audiences in a way most hadn’t seen before. Travel at that time was less common, and it had only been a few years since the war, so Italy was not considered the prime destination then that it is today.

This was Hepburn’s big screen debut, and she won an Academy Award for her performance as the frustrated princess struggling with her role in society. She wasn’t the first choice for the role, yet her screen test won over both director Wyler and co-star Peck with her natural yet chic style, perfect for the character.

Audrey Hepburn Gregory Peck
Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck

Initially Peck was to be given sole star billing in the film, yet at some point during production he insisted her name be listed at, or near, the top, with his, something he was given a lot of credit for, yet he dismissed as “the obvious thing to do,” noting her fame was going to overtake the film and it would look silly not to have her given higher billing.

The film was nominated for a total of ten Academy Awards, and in addition to Best Actress, won the awards for Best Costume Design, Black & White and Best Writing (Motion Picture Story). The latter award was originally given to Ian McClellan Hunter, who fronted for Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood elite blacklisted at the time. Years later (1993) the Academy corrected the listing for the award and Trumbo now receives credit.

In an off-screen romantic twist, Gregory Peck met his second wife, Veronique Passani, while filming Roman Holiday. Passani was a reporter assigned to interview Peck. They married in 1955 and remained together until his death in 2003.

Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert, Audrey Hepburn
Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert, Audrey Hepburn

Roman Holiday is truly a classic romantic comedy; it perhaps sets the standard for such. It is classy, charming and endearing, with an ending that is satisfying in all its surprises, a tale of the perfect romance, whose memory will never be marred by day-to-day realities.


Original Theatrical Trailer, featuring Audrey Hepburn’s screen test:

Re-release trailer:

 

 

 

 

All About Eve

All About Eve, 1950, 20th Century Fox, Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, George Sanders, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. B&W, 138 minutes.

Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is a brilliant, yet aging, Broadway diva who finds lost puppy Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), an ardent fan and aspiring actress, on the doorstep of her theater.

Actually, it’s Margo’s close friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) who finds Eve huddling outside the backstage door, and at Karen’s gentle urging, Margo takes Eve under her wing. Margo’s loyal and acerbic maid Birdie (Thelma Ritter) is the only one with doubts about the young woman, and the balance of deference as a servant and dedication as a friend keeps her quiet — but she manages to let her feelings slip at opportune times.

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Anne Baxter, Thelma Ritter, Bette Davis

Margo’s ever-patient boyfriend Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) is directing the play she’s currently starring in, which was written by Karen’s husband Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe). Lloyd is one of the finest playwrights of his time, and he’s writing a new play specifically for Margo, as he’s done several times before.

Gradually Eve begins to clearly show her true intentions. She’s very good at carrying out ambitious plans intended to defeat others, and doesn’t have a second thought for who’s left behind. But these are well-matched players, and the consequences aren’t always as anticipated.

Woven into all of this is sly, sophisticated and at times unscrupulous theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). He has an almost omniscient presence, is unpleasantly necessary to the theater scene and therefore reluctantly respected, or at least tolerated, by the seasoned players. He plays his cards well. Very well.

All About Eve party scene
Gregory Ratoff, Anne Baxter, Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm, George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe

This film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won 6, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for George Sanders.  Bette Davis and Anne Baxter were both nominated for Best Actress, and it was a split among voters that’s believed to have cost Davis the award for what most consider her greatest role. (Despite the film’s title, it’s hard to justify Baxter’s role as a “lead actress” part.)

All four women (Davis, Baxter, Holms and Ritter) were nominated for Academy Awards, and this remains the only film in Oscar history to have four female acting nominations.

Davis was a last-minute choice as Margo, and several script changes were made to accent her more caustic style. Still, the Margo she played had a vulnerable side as a woman who struggled to give up her role as the premier — yet no longer young — star on Broadway. She was being forced to step down and let another woman for whom she had little or no respect take the stage, literally, and perhaps outshine her. The future frightened her.

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Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter, George Sanders

Davis was a master at balancing the abrasive with the unguarded parts of her character, and you never lose sympathy for Margo, as infuriating as she might be. Moreover, there was never any doubt Margo truly was a star, and always would be, regardless of the roles she might play. Bette Davis created a captivating performance of a memorable character.

George Sanders gave a potentially off-putting character an element of charm and appeal that while underhanded, is also a wee bit sexy. Sanders’ performance is rich in both expression and words, as he worked both elements with a rare expertise.

In addition to all the award-worthy work of this film’s stars and co-stars, look for Marilyn Monroe’s notable performance in one of her first major motion picture appearances.

Gary Merrill, Bette Davis All About Eve
Gary Merrill, Bette Davis

There are some surprisingly old-school thoughts coming from feminist Margo at times regarding a woman’s role and marriage, but overall, the character remains consistent through her evolution and growth. Her parting words to Eve following the awards ceremony assure us Margo will never change. In real life, Bette Davis was well ahead of her time in women’s rights, and that quality rings most true in her performance.

The movie drags a bit in the end, in part because Davis isn’t in much of it. Still, some of the most satisfying parts of the plot are also found there.

Rated #28 in AFI’s 2007 list of the Top 100 Best Movies all Time, this is a must-watch film for classic movie fans — and all true movie fans.