The Rack (1956) starring Paul Newman

Capt. Edward Hall, Jr. (Paul Newman)- the son of an Army colonel (Walter Pidgeon)- returns to the US (San Francisco) after 2 yrs in a Korean War prison camp. For 6 mos, he was isolated from the other prisoners and psychologically tortured. His younger brother (Paul) died in combat during this time. Ed is quickly charged w/ treason, assigned a JAG lawyer- Lt. Col Frank Wasnick (prolific character actor Edmond O’Brien)- and put on trial. Paul’s widow Aggie (Anne Francis) is empathetic and a willing ear for Ed, though his father is embarrassed (even refusing to come to court). He pleads “not guilty,” but had he reached a personal breaking point during his capture? 

This is a must-see if you like intelligent, sensitive, serious, and well-acted l films! The teleplay was written by Rod Serling (creator of the original Twilight Zone TV series). Paul Newman (then 30 y.o.) is able to keep the viewer’s attention in the quiet and intense moments; he slowly reveals the layers of his character. Newman creates terrific chemistry w/ his co-stars, most notably Pidgeon and Francis. The theme of the distant/unemotional father and son yearning for acceptance and love isn’t rare for Hollywood, though it’s handled very well here. When Ed leaves home and goes to stay in a hotel, a concerned Aggie goes to check on him. In a more obvious story, they may have become a romantic pair; here they become good friends.

The prosecution of a (previously decorated) war hero isn’t an easy thing to handle; it falls upon Maj. Sam Moulton (Wendell Corey), who isn’t too happy w/ the assignment. Lt. Col. Wasnick sees that Ed is full of self-pity, so has to boost his spirits and prep him to tell his story on the stand. O’Brien gets some of the best lines (during the courtroom scenes). Even the soldier who testifies against Ed, Capt. John Miller (character actor Lee Marvin), isn’t a one-note  character. It turns out that he also suffered tortured, though his was physical. Aggie confides her worries in a neighbor played by a very young (and pretty) Cloris Leachman; she later became an iconic character actor in comedy.

[1] This is fascinating drama… The ending is ambiguous and may well lead to a heated debate…
 
[2] …the theme is relevant today as it was when it was made.
 

[3] Paul Newman’s second film… [his acting] demonstrates that, even then, he was the truly finest screen performer around. But the very nature of his style has always placed him behind –or to the side of– more “bravura” actors of the time. Unlike Brando and Clift and Dean- he is much less self-centered; in other words he is a sharing actor. This puts the SCENE in focus more than the performance…

[4] I thought the acting was sincere and I was draw to this character that seemed to feel he lost his way by being human.
 
-Excerpts from IMBD reviews

 

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Holiday Affair (1949) starring Robert Mitchum & Janet Leigh

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[1] The story as well is told with such maturity and wit for those days… Here we see REAL people as it were. Real people with real problems. Especially in Leigh’s character…

[2] The dialogue is among the best and the long string of coincidences make this film charming, not clichéd. 

[3] Surprisingly quirky film isn’t the least bit obvious or clichéd, and Janet’s sceen-relationship with Gordon Gebert, the likable youngster playing her son, is very well handled. 

[4] Wendell Corey is excellent as the fiancé; he turns this very practical character into a sympathetic one and there are times you’re not sure who you want to win — or lose — Leigh’s hand.

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This is one of my (new) holiday faves; I discovered it (thanks to TCM) about 5 yrs ago. A few days before Christmas, comparison shopper Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) buys a train for work, BUT but her 7 y.o. son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) finds it and assumes that it’s for him. When Connie goes back to the department store to return the train the next day, clerk Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) quickly figures out her real purpose. He doesn’t turn her in to management, which gets him fired. They end up spending most of the day together, which Connie doesn’t reveal to her suitor of 2 yrs, Carl (Wendell Corey), a divorce lawyer.  Romantic complications follow. Also, look out for Harry Morgan (best known for M.A.S.H.) who plays a bemused police lieutenant.

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In the kitchen scene, Mitchum gives Leigh a sudden, passionate kiss. Leigh said: “The expression that is on my face of being overwhelmed was for real.” Mitchum explained: “I wanted to make the kiss memorable, as though the characters were never going to see each other again. The perks of being an actor are at times not bad.” Leigh enjoyed working with both Mitchum and Corey; the set was a relaxed and happy one (where BOTH men were full of practical jokes).

 

White Christmas (1954) starring Bing Crosby & Danny Kaye

My dear partner, when what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left. -Phil comments (re: Bob’s bachelorhood).

When I figure out what that means I’ll come up with a crushing reply. -Bob says, confused.

Having left the Army following WWII, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) team up to become a successful song-and-dance act. Phil (playing matchmaker) introduces Bob to the talented/beautiful sisters of an Army buddy, Betty (Rosemary Clooney- aunt of George) and Judy (Vera Ellen) Haynes, who are an up-and-comers in show business. When Betty and Judy travel to a Vermont to perform during the holidays, the men follow (Phil convinces Bob- he saved his life during a bombing raid). The men find their former commander, General Waverly, is the owner of Pine Tree Inn; w/ the lack of snow and guests, he’s losing hope. A series of romantic mix-ups ensue as these performers try to help him out.

It’s cozier, isn’t it? Boy, girl, boy, girl? -Phil asks the Haynes sisters re: his seating plan.

This is a holiday classic (now streaming on Netflix) that my family and I watched almost every year growing up. There is singing (Crosby and Clooney focus on this aspect more), dancing (Kaye and Ellen are more involved in this), fabulous clothes (esp. the gowns chosen for Clooney- IMO), comedy (wordplay, physical humor, Mary Wickes’ as the inn’s housekeeper, etc.) and romance. Irving Berlin composed the music, which is quite memorable. Things get complicated b/c Phil (and later- also Judy) plot to throw Bob and Betty (who are BOTH concerned re: their careers and “slow movers” in romance) together.

Imagine a girl in show business today wanting to settle down and raising a family. It’s so refreshing, isn’t it? -Phil asks Bob, while Betty and Judy look on.

Pushing, pushing. -Bob mumbles into his glass of water.

There is some cool trivia behind this film. According to Clooney, the “midnight snack” scene in which Bob Wallace expounds on his theory of what foods cause what dreams was almost entirely improvised. She said that the men’s “Sisters” performance was not originally in the script. Crosby and Kaye were clowning around on the set, and director (Michael Curtiz) thought it was so funny that he decided to film it. In the scene, Crosby’s laughs are genuine and unscripted, as he was unable to hold a straight face due to Kaye’s comedic dancing. The filmmakers had a better take (where Crosby didn’t laugh), BUT test audiences liked the laughing version better. I noticed this a FEW years ago- one of the background dancers is George Chakiris, who later won the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for his role as Bernardo in West Side Story (1961). Bob Fosse was one of the choreographers (though he is uncredited).

Below is a video of one of the BEST dance numbers from the film.