Today, Sunday April 5th, is a special day in Classic Hollywood Land. Not only is it Easter for those who celebrate it, it’s also the Birthday of four very special people, who are known as some of the most eminent stars to ever grace the silver screen during the annals of classic cinema. Two of these people are amongst my favorite movie stars, and have been a major influence in my life for as long as I can remember. Seeing as it’s a tetralogy of Birthday’s, it would make this an extremely long post by writing biographies on the four, so I thought I would honor them by sharing old reviews that I have done of each of today’s Birthday people.
BETTE DAVIS: BORN RUTH ELIZABETH DAVIS ON APRIL 5TH, 1908 IN LOWELL, MASSACHUSETTS.
“DARK VICTORY” 1939.
To kick off November with the second installment of “Random Movies Month” for Monty and Desiree’s website, I thought I would review one of my absolute favorite movies of all time “Dark Victory” featuring the iconic Bette Davis in her greatest and inimitable performance of her career.
Bette Davis is always eminent in everything she does, but when you put her in the role as Judith Traherne, she is captivating. Bette absolutely shines in this great classic about a young society girl conflicted with a terminal illness. Judith Traherne ( Bette Davis ) is a young voluptuous Long Island socialite who has a passion for horses and parties. Judith suffers from severe headaches, double vision and dizziness, but totally dismisses the fact that she maybe ill. When she has a lapse and falls off a horse and later plummets down a flight of stairs, her friend Ann ( Geraldine Fitzgerald ) is alarmed and insists that she see a doctor, who refers her to a specialist Dr. Frederick Steele ( George Brent ). At first Dr. Steele is reluctant to consult with Judith as he’s amid closing his New York office to relocate to Vermont where he plans to conduct brain cell research. However he decides to meet with Judith, who is initially uncouth and contentious towards him. Upon meeting with her, Dr. Steele realizes that Judith is gravely ill. Worried he puts his career plans in abeyance so he can commit his time to Judy’s desideratum’s. After some disputation, it is determined that Judith needs to undergo an operation. Following the surgery it is learnt that Judith is irremediable and she is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Dr. Steele insists that Judy remains happy, and does not want her to know that her death is imminent, so he decides to keep it a secret from Judith and Ann, and assures them that the surgery was successful. Ann can see that Dr. Steele is incredulous, and apprehends that he’s withholding the truth. Ann confronts Steele at a party, and he enumerates to her that the procedure was futile and dying is ineluctable. Ann agrees that Judith endures to be omniscient about the whole situation.
During this vicissitude Judith falls in love with Dr. Steele and they plan to marry, but Ann is solicitous about them being involved romantically as she’s aware of what’s cropping up behind Judith. While visiting the doctors office one day Judith comes across her file on Steele’s desk. Still incognizant about her health she proceeds reading her file and discovers her results being prognosis negative. Once finding out about her current status Judith is rather compulsive and starts displaying signs of melancholy, which leads her to suspect that Steele is marrying her out of pity. As a result she absconds from the relationship and returns to her normal lifestyle. After a discussion with her horse trainer Michael ( Humphrey Bogart ) she makes a restitution with Steele, and marry contiguously. Together they move to Vermont for Steele’s work where they reside for the concluding chapter of Judy’s life.
Bette reached the height of her acting potential in “Dark Victory”, and deserved to attain the Oscar for her portrayal of Judith Traherne, but seeing as 1939 is considered the most hellacious year for movies she was repudiated and Vivien Leigh received the Oscar that year for “Gone With The Wind”. Even though I like “Gone With The Wind” I still feel that Bette was robbed, and should have obtained the Oscar. Here she delivered the most culminating performance of her career, and really epitomizing her unparalleled acting talents all throughout the movie, most notably in the scene where she helps Ann plant the bulbs and slowly transforms into blindness. No other actress could portray the role as Judith Traherne as well as Bette.
Bette Davis has always said that this was her favorite role to play.
Off-screen, Bette Davis suffered a nervous breakdown during filming as a result of her crumbling marriage to Harmon Nelson. This didn’t prevent her from embarking on an affair with co-star George Brent.
Bette Davis pestered Warner Brothers to buy the rights to the story, thinking it a great vehicle for her. WB studio chief Jack L. Warner fought against it, arguing that no one wanted to see someone go blind. Of course, the film went on to become one of the studio’s biggest successes of that year.
Quotes from film:
Judith: “I think I’ll have a large order of prognosis negative.”
Judith: “Nothing can hurt us now. What we have can’t be destroyed. That’s our victory – our victory over the dark. It is a victory because we’re not afraid.”
Judith: “I’ve never taken orders from anyone. As long as I live, I’ll never take orders from anyone. I’m young and strong and nothing can touch me.”
Bette Davis: Born Ruth Elizabeth Davis on April 5th, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Died: October 6th, 1989 in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, France. Aged 81. Cause of death: Breast Cancer.
George Brent: Born George Brendan Nolan on March 15th, 1899 in Roscommon, Ireland. Died: May 26th, 1979 in Solana Beach, California.
SPENCER TRACY: BORN SPENCER BONAVENTURE TRACY ON APRIL 5TH, 1900 IN MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN.
“WOMAN OF THE YEAR” ( 1942 )
SCREWBALL COMEDY MONTH
“WOMAN OF THE YEAR” ( 1942 )
Katharine Hepburn has never been in a bad movie, and that is evident in “Woman Of The Year”. I might be bias when I say that because my passion for Kate has been apparent for many years. Through my enthusiasm, and after watching Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy on the screen, I came to admire Spencer, and for several years now, Spencer Tracy has been my favorite actor. One of the first Tracy and Hepburn vehicles I seen was “Woman Of The Year” and even though I’ve seen it over and over again, it always cements itself as one of my favorite movies of all time.
“Woman Of The Year” marks the first of the nine Tracy and Hepburn collaborations. For years, Katharine Hepburn was eager to work with Spencer Tracy. When Howard Hughes brought the film rights from the play for “The Philadelphia Story” she convinced Louis B. Mayer to purchase them from her for only $250,000, in return of Katharine having choice over the cast, director, producers and screenwriter. Hepburn wanted Spencer Tracy to portray Mike Connor, and Clark Gable to play Dexter Haven, and her friend George Cukor as director. Both actors had other commitments at that time and couldn’t fulfil Katharine’s preference, so the roles went to Cary Grant, Hepburn’s frequent co-star at the time, and James Stewart. Katharine’s close friend Garson Kanin developed an outline for a proposed film titled “Woman Of The Year”, and Hepburn passed it onto Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who agreed to produce the picture. Once the script was completed, Hepburn held the major decision on the co-star and director, and chose Spencer Tracy and George Stevens. This time she was lucky. Her request was fulfilled, and Spencer Tracy became Hepburn’s leading man.
The film boasted a major success with two of the studios biggest stars, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn together for the first time. After her commendable portrayal of Tracy Lord in “The Philadelphia Story”, Katharine Hepburn had vanquished the title of ‘Box Office Poison” that she attained in 1938, and now her career was escalating to great heights.
Superbly directed by George Stevens, who had worked with Hepburn in films like “Alice Adams” and “Quality Street”, and with a script by Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr., “Woman Of The Year” will remain ‘Film Of The Year’ for many decades to come.
The film tells the story of Tess Harding and Sam Craig ( Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy ) who are both journalists for the ‘New York Chronicle’. Tess is a worldly, and erudite political affairs columnist, while Sam is a sagacious sports writer. Though they have never met, Sam doesn’t care for Tess’s attitude. After a feud erupts in their column, Sam approaches Tess, and is contiguously infatuated by her. Soon after he invites her to a baseball game, and in return she asks him to her apartment that night, where Sam automatically thinks it’s going to be a romantic night for two, but is shocked to discover that it’s a party with a plethora of guests that are not affluent with speaking English.
Regardless of their differences in their personalities, the two form a close friendship with one another, and are eventually swept into the triangle of love. Shortly after Sam proposes to Tess, and she accepts. With Harding’s hectic lifestyle they get married in a very brief and rushed ceremony. Not long into the marriage, personalities clash, and Sam is irascible with Tess being a workaholic, and not paying any attention to the marriage. This results in a series of conflicts, which exacerbate when Tess adopts Chris, a Greek refugee child without Sam’s cognizance or approval. Sam doesn’t want an unrelated child in the house, and feels uncomfortable about him being in their presence. However he does try to warm up to Chris by introducing him to sports.
Altercations ensue when Tess attains the ‘America’s Outstanding Woman Of The Year’ award, which is to be presented at the Gala ceremony. Wanting Sam to attend, she plans to leave Chris at home by himself. Sam refuses to cooperate, and nor does he wish to engage himself in his wife’s activities. With this latest tribulation, tensions rise, and the two are caught up in another storm.
“Woman Of The Year” is a real treasure for classic film fans. It’s sparkling with humor, and plenty of laughs. Though the film is not really classified as a Screwball Comedy, it does have elements of Screwball Comedy in it. In fact the film showcases many types of comedy including Slapstick humor, which is very notable in the end Kitchen scene where Tess returns to Sam’s apartment and decides to cook him breakfast. Tess has no idea how to cook or make coffee, and the whole scene is just a streak of disaster, resulting in non stop laughs from the viewers.
To me, the movie is pure gold. I love Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and their chemistry is clearly evident in this film. The chemistry they displayed for one another was real, and honest. The thing about the films with Tracy and Hepburn are that they actually present a relationship, not just a courtship and a “and then they lived happily ever after, for all time” ending. They show the real issues with communication, work, space, and borders, everything that must be understood about a person to make it work. And they are absolutely adoring of each other.
Woman of the Year was the first of nine films Hepburn and Tracy made together. They met for the first time on the shoot. In the 1993 documentary Katharine Hepburn: All About Me, Hepburn herself says she was wearing high heels at the first meeting with Tracy and producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and said “I’m afraid I’m a bit tall for you, Mr. Tracy”. Mankiewicz then responded, “Don’t worry, Kate, he’ll cut you down to size.” It was during the filming of Woman of the Year that Hepburn and Tracy became romantically involved – a relationship that lasted until Tracy’s death in 1967.
Katharine Hepburn speaks six different languages in this film. They are English, French, Spanish, Russian, German and Greek.
As Katharine Hepburn‘s close friend and frequent director, George Cukor was a natural choice to direct, but for her first film with Spencer Tracy, Hepburn wanted Tracy to be as comfortable as possible, so as a quasi-producer, she hired George Stevens, who had directed her in Alice Adams (1935). As Hepburn said, “I just thought he (Tracy) should have a big, manly man on his team – someone who could talk about baseball.” Cukor (who was openly gay and known for his friendships with actresses) would later become a good friend of Tracy and would direct both actors in Keeper of the Flame (1942), Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952).
The Broadway musical version opened at the Palace Theater on May 29, 1981, ran for 770 performances starring Lauren Bacall and Harry Guardino and was nominated for the 1981 Tony Awards for the Best Musical, Book and Score.
Quotes from film:
Tess Harding: “Sam, why can’t we sit down like adults and patch this thing up?”
Sam Craig: “I’m afraid that might become a habit. Then we’d wind up with a patchwork quilt for a marriage.”
Tess Harding: “I’m going to be your wife. You don’t think that I can do the little ordinary things that any idiot can do, do you?”
Sam Craig: “No.”
Tess Harding: “Why not?”
Sam Craig: “Because you’re incapable of doing them, that’s why. You can’t expect Seabiscuit to stop in the middle of the stretch, drink a glass of water, and count to seven at the same time, you know. That takes training.”
Tess Harding: “Well, I’m not Sea biscuit.”
Sam Craig: “I don’t want to be married to Tess Harding any more than I want you to be just Mrs Sam Craig. Why can’t you be Tess Harding Craig?”
Tess Harding: “I think it’s a wonderful name.”
Katharine Hepburn: Born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003 in Fenwick, Connecticut. Aged 96.
Spencer Tracy: Born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy on April 5th, 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Died: June 10th, 1967 in Beverly Hills, California. Aged 67.
Note: On the night of Spencer’s death he got out of bed and proceeded into the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. Katharine followed him but before she reached the kitchen she heard a loud thump on the floor and the shattering of glass. She ran in and found Spencer dead. She squatted down and nursed his head on her lap.
THE GREAT SINNER ( 1949 )
STAR OF THE MONTH: MELVYN DOUGLAS
THE GREAT SINNER ( 1949 )
When it was announced that Melvyn Douglas is the chosen star of the month for April, I automatically chose to write about “The Great Sinner”, and it’s rather obvious why, because the charming and ever lovely Ethel Barrymore appears in a short cameo at the end. When I first attained this movie, I got it for Ethel’s presence, and for Melvyn Douglas, who I have always admired, and who happens to hold third leading role in the movie. Although I was disappointed that Ethel only had a small quantity of screen time, I was impressed by the film, and the commendable performance that Melvyn Douglas transmitted to the screen.
“The Great Sinner” is a drama film, which was inspired by the 1866 novel “The Gambler”. Superbly directed by Robert Siodmak, who had previous success in directing notable thrillers such as, “The Dark Mirror”, “The File On Thelma Jordon”, and “The Spiral Staircase”, where he worked with Ethel in what is known as her most distinguished film. After many changes with the cast, finalization took place in June 1948, and the film was set to cast, Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Melvyn Douglas, amongst many other eminent names including Ethel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead.
It’s the 1860’s, and Fedya (diminutive of Fyodor) ( Gregory Peck ) a young seasoned writer is travelling to Moscow to engage himself in writing activities. When he meets Pauline Ostrovsky ( Ava Gardner ) he immediately becomes infatuated by her, and departs the train at Wiesbaden, and follows her to a casino, where he discovers that Pauline is an obsessive gambler.
After spending days witnessing compulsive gamblers in action, and seeing the cold response from Pauline and her father, General Ostrovsky, after hearing that his mother, Grandmother Ostrovsky ( Ethel Barrymore ) is dying, Fedya becomes intrigued by the effects of gambling and decides to stay in Wiesbaden so he can observe the lives of gambling addicts to write about them.
As time progresses, Fedya starts to relish in the activities, and enjoys spending many hours at the casino. Eventually he gets swept into the abyss of compulsive gambling himself, and finds himself completely bankrupt, as well as lacking moral fibre. Now that he is impecunious, he resorts to pawning his possessions and robbing a church poor box in order to feed his severe addiction.
“The Great Sinner” is a film that was panned at the box office and by critics, but as the years have passed, the film has been welcomed by critical acclaim, and now receives more recognition than what it did on it’s release.
Even though I was disappointed that Ethel Barrymore only appeared at the film’s climax, and was only given a role that was about fifteen minutes long, I still enjoy the movie, and it is always a delight to watch the very handsome and suave Melvyn Douglas on screen.
Melvyn Douglas is one those actors that tends to get overlooked. It’s a huge shame, as he has appeared in an array of bodacious films with top stars, and always gave a memorable performance, sometimes portraying a character that has left a lasting impression on me. In this film he played the role of Armand de Glasse, and delivered a sterling performance as usual. I just find it a shame that he never shared a scene with Ethel Barrymore, as that would have been spectacular.
Although Ethel Barrymore only had a small role, she still walked away with the picture like she always did. When she did come in, sparks flew with her imperious aura and acidic humor. She always left her mark, and that is one of the reasons why she holds the place as my second favorite actress.
What I do find exceptional about the movie is the costumes that are lush and believable, aiming for the grandeur and tragedy of 19th century European literature without laying the groundwork.
The starring role was first offered to Kirk Douglas, who turned it down in order to make the independent film Champion (1949), for which he was Oscar-nominated.
Based on the 1866 short novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Pauline Ostrovsky: Oh, you can count on my vanity. No matter what you say I’ll regard it as a compliment.
Fedya: All right, if you insist. To one of the most corrupt women I’ve ever met.
Pauline Ostrovsky: Corrupt?
Fedya: Corrupt, confused, frustrated, and empty.
Pauline Ostrovsky: But in a charming sort of way, you’ll admit.
Fedya: Well charm, my dear is your gambling capital. You toss it on the table like money, like everything else, even a dying grandmother.
Pauline Ostrovsky: When a man takes the trouble to be so rude to a woman, he is usually falling in love with her.
Fedya: You’re not a woman. You are a symptom.
Pauline Ostrovsky: Of what?
Fedya: Of one of the worlds deadliest diseases, sophistication. More champagne?
Pauline Ostrovsky: What else am I?
Fedya: You are irritatingly beautiful.
Pauline Ostrovsky: Well, at last!
Fedya: And everything, I reject.
Gregory Peck: Born Eldred Gregory Peck on April 5th, 1916 in San Diego, California. Died: June 12th, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 87.
Ava Gardner: Born Ava Lavinia Gardner on December 24th, 1922 in Smithfield, North Carolina. Died: January 25th, 1990 in Westminster, London. Aged 67.
Melvyn Douglas: Born Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg on April 5th, 1901 in Macon, Georgia. Died: August 4th, 1981 in New York. Aged 80.
Ethel Barrymore: Born Ethel Mae Blythe on August 15th, 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: June 18th, 1959 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 79.
THE VALLEY OF DECISION.
Greer Garson and Gregory Peck are fireworks in this powerful film set in Pittsburgh in the late 19th century. Greer Garson plays Mary Rafferty, the daughter of Pat Rafferty, an embittered and rancorous laborer who was crippled in an accident at the mill years earlier. When Mary secures herself a job as housemaid in the Scott Mansion complications brew as Pat wants Mary to dismiss the job offer, and does not want Mary to have any involvement with the Scott family whatsoever. Mary however accepts the job and builds a close rapport between her and the Scott family. Romance strikes when Mary falls in love with the Scott’s son Paul ( Gregory Peck ), and when Paul proposes marriage the Scott’s approve, but enmity and rage is about to boil on the poor side of town, which leads to a violent strike and the separation of Mary and Paul.Greer Garson delivered a fine portrayal in the role as Mary Rafferty. She really showcases her acting talents in this film, and perfected the Irish accent really well. Gregory Peck also gave an enjoyable performance, and boy is he handsome in this? I’m also particularly fond of Gladys Cooper in the role as Clarissa ( Paul’s mother ). After being accustomed to her role as a not so likeable character in “Now Voyager” it’s good to see her portraying an amicable woman with a palatable way of life.
“The Valley Of Decision” is a movie which I hold in high regard. To me it is movie making to perfection. This is the perfect example of the famous saying which is quite often pertained to classic film “They don’t make them like they used to.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BETTE, SPENCER, MELVYN AND GREGORY. THANK YOU FOR A LIFETIME OF ENTERTAINMENT.
Photo below: Me visiting Bette’s crypt at Forest Lawn during a visit to LA last November.