January 18, 2008
I have been promising myself that in Hoboken I won't get into the rut I was in in Fairhope -- I won't spend most of my days and virtually all of my evenings sitting at home watching television.
I've managed to find WQXR on my radio dial, and 770 FM for Imus in the Morning on my little Memorex, so I find it possible to avoid the daytime cooks tempting me on The Food Network and the glamorous houses making me feel shabby on HGTV. Most of the time.
But there is this thing called Turner Classic Movies. I always have to check it out in case I might miss something. I love the time capsule that is old movies -- women really wearing their hair that way, and some of the clothes! -- replete with jazzy, old-fashioned dialogue that makes me think of my father.
The other night I got hooked into the old chestnut entitled San Francisco. This starred a pre-Gone-With-the-Wind Clark Gable, almost as if he were auditioning for Rhett Butler. (Margaret Mitchell said that she had him in mind for the character as she wrote the book.) I was fascinated, and let's face it, turned on, seeing this actor in his absolute prime. I'm one of those who has accepted George Clooney as Gable's successor, but I kept thinking, "Could Clooney have really done this role as well?" Why speculate -- the original still exists, and it's a glorious little gem of a black and white movie.
Gable plays Blackie, owner of a club on the infamous Barbary Coast, when a delicate songbird enters looking for a job. The singer is Mary Blake, a preacher's daughter from Denver, played by the exquisite Jeannette MacDonald. I confess I missed the rage for Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald in the late 1930's/early 1940's. I wasn't born for most of it. I have caught the act on TCM, however, and feel they deserved every big of the acclaim they got.
But this movie predates that pairing. Gable and MacDonald were a gorgeous couple in every sense of the word. Spencer Tracy plays the feisty priest who intervenes to help them avoid disaster if he can. It's a wonderful movie, okay, maybe a chick flick that men too would like. The phone rang (See? I do have a life!) before the end, meaning I missed some of the crucial moments, meaning I can see it again.
Another San Francisco movie that ran the next night was Frisco Kid starring James Cagney. Made in the mid-1930's, it was Cagney as the owner of, you guessed it, a club on the infamous Barbary Coast. It takes him from humble beginnings as a sailor who is almost shanghaied into permanent servitude to a life of wealth and the privilege of falling in love (not unlike Gable's Blackie) with a woman out of his class. This one I left off in the middle partly because I am less taken with Margaret Lindsay than I am with Jeannette MacDonald.
Got to tell you one more scene from an old movie I saw this week. I think the title was Another Man's Woman, something like that. This was one of those real antiques with Mary Astor and Regis Toomey as a happily married couple until his best friend moves in and falls in love with Mary Astor. Yeah, sort of like You, Me and DuPree. It gets really unfunny, however, on purpose, and the plot gets all tangled up with Joan Blondell and Jimmy Cagney thrown in for good measure. The scene that made me laugh out loud was when Cagney, a really minor player, is taking his girl dancing and says to her, "Baby, you look like 700 bucks!"
Cagney is one of my favorite movie dancers, by the way, right up there with Fred Astaire. Just a few steps and he has me in his pocket. He is graceful, proficient, and always a pleasure to watch. If you don't believe me, watch Footlight Parade, The West Point Story, or find this peculiar little soap opera and wait for him to come in and do a couple of steps. (I know he was in something called Yankee Doodle Dandy, and I know he was good in that, but he was doing George M. Cohan's style in that one. No small feat.) Believe me, the kid was good!
Old movies are one of my major diversions. I will accept just about anything Ted Turner does because of his old-movie channel.