Sunday, December 2, 2018

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - Heartwarming Christmas Classic

Heartwarming Christmas Classic "Miracle on 34th Street" Endures

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"Miracle on 34th Street."
You must have heard of "Miracle on 34th Street," because it seems as though everyone has heard of "Miracle on 34th Street." If you didn't see "Miracle on 34th Street" as a kid, then you missed out on a big part of the holiday season. But, you can always watch it now whether it be the first for fortieth time!

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 John Payne, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn on the set of "Miracle on 34th Street (all photos courtesy 20th Century Fox/Fox Entertainment Group).
Just to be clear, we are talking about the original "Miracle on 34th Street," not the 1994 Hollywood remake or any other version (there actually are several). "Miracle on 34th Street" appears on television every holiday season and has for decades and no doubt will continue to do so. "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) is a bona fide holiday classic.

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"Miracle on 34th Street" stars Maureen O'HaraJohn Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and a young Natalie Wood. There is an authentic feel to "Miracle on 34th Street" which is rarely equaled in a Hollywood studio film. There are very good reasons for this which we will get to below.

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"Miracle on 34th Street" was made during a brief period of time when Hollywood was making a string of sentimental classics such as "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), "The Bishop's Wife" (1947), and "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946). There are only a handful of live-action films that are the elite of seasonal classics. Others in this small group include "A Christmas Carol," "Babes in Toyland," and "A Christmas Story." It may seem easy to become a "holiday classic," but it actually is only a very small elite group of films that make the grade out of the hundreds that have been made and continue to be made.

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George Seaton wrote and directed "Miracle on 34th Street." Seaton based his script on a story by "Miracle on 34th Street" is the story of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa and whose influence drastically affects the lives of those around him.

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Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for  Best Actor Actor in a Supporting Role for his role as Kris Kringle. George Seaton won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay, while Valentine Davies won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story.

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While "Miracle on 34th Street" is an obvious holiday movie, 20th Century Fox, which produced and distributed the film, decided to release it on June 4, 1947. June, obviously, is not the holiday season, so it was an odd time to release a Christmas-themed film. Very few people are thinking of the holiday season in June. Despite this, "Miracle on 34th Street" did fairly well at the box office, earning $2.7 million on a budget of $630,000.

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So, "Miracle on 34th Street" definitely made money. One can think of releasing a holiday film in June as counter-programming of a sort, but it definitely was an odd decision that was based on the simple fact that more people go to movies during the summer than in the winter (which is still the case). The studio felt that the stars alone would sell "Miracle on 34th Street," as they were romantic leads, and the studio was right.

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The initial box office of "Miracle on 34th Street," however, is dwarfed by its subsequent earnings as it became an undeniable holiday classic. There are enduring memories of "Miracle on 34th Street." for instance, "Miracle on 34th Street" concludes with the Johny Payne and Maureen O'Hara characters buying a house. The real house used for that scene is at 24 Derby Road, Port Washington, New York. It still looks pretty much the same.

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The child star of "Miracle on 34th Street," Natalie Wood, was a well-known child actress at the time of its production. She first began acting in the 1943 film "Happy Land," and was named the Most Talented Young Actress of 1946 by Box Office Magazine. Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris Kringle in "Miracle on 34th Street," was an accomplished British actor who began acting in 1895 and became a silent film actor. Not particularly prominent in Hollywood at the time, Gwenn reached his height of fame with "Miracle on 34th Street."

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An original lobby card from "Miracle on 34th Street."
Maureen O'Hara, who plays Macy's event director Doris Walker in  "Miracle on 34th Street," already was a top Hollywood actress. Just as Edmund Gwenn had acted in four Alfred Hitchcock films, O'Hara had broken through to stardom in the Hitchcock film "Jamaica Inn" (1939). O'Hara was the biggest Hollywood star at the time, and she receives top billing despite the film's focus on the Kris Kringle character. John Payne, attorney Fred Gailey in "Miracle on 34th Street," was a top B-movie leading actor. The success of "Miracle on 34th Street" enabled Payne to get better roles at other studios.

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One of the reasons that "Miracle on 34th Street" has an authentic feel is that Natalie Wood, who was eight years old, honestly thought that Edmund Gwenn was Santa Claus during the filming of  "Miracle on 34th Street." Edmund Gwenn did not actually have a beard. He also gained 30 pounds for the role, though, and when she learned that after filming was over, young Natalie's illusions were shattered. There were good reasons why Natalie Wood might have thought that Edmund Gwenn was the real Santa. Besides his obvious resemblance to Santa Claus, Gwenn played Santa Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on 28 November 1946. This was a real event, not done for the film, a very unique example of verisimilitude for a young girl. Gwenn did this for real, not as a stunt, though, of course, it tied in nicely with his role in "Miracle on 34th Street."

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The crew for "Miracle on 34th Street" had motion-picture cameras placed at several points along the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade route. Every scene showing the parade in the background was shot in one and only one take.

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According to Maureen O'Hara, the movie set of "Miracle on 34th Street" was extremely friendly. Everybody on the set loved Edmund Gwenn. William Frawley, a little-known actor at the time, plays a canny political operative in "Miracle on 34th Street." A few years later, Frawley got his friend Lucille Ball to cast him as Fred Mertz in "I Love Lucy," one of the most beloved television characters ever. Maureen O'Hara, Edmund Gwenn, and John Payne routinely walked together along Fifth Avenue after each day's shooting, which was done essentially in real time during the 1946 holiday season depicted in the film. It was that kind of set, and that translated to the screen.

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Another reason for the authentic feel of "Miracle on 34th Street" was that the film shot on location in New York City in the actual Macy's Department Store and nearby locations. Macy's, of course, is located on 34th Street in Manhattan, hence the title. This gave a unique opportunity to film a scene which shows the actual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade rolling by outside. In fact, in an early scene of "Miracle on 34th Street," Natalie Wood and John Payne are shown having a conversation in front of a window overlooking the parade. That was the very Thanksgiving Day parade in which Edmund Gwenn rode on a float portraying Santa Claus.

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"Miracle on 34th Street" was phenomenal advertising for Macy's and its main competitor which is mentioned in the film, Gimbels. Macy's reportedly closed early one day in 1947 so that its 12,000 workers could see the first run of "Miracle on 34th Street." Gimbels is no longer around, but Macy's remains at the same location in New York City now that it was at in 1946.

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Only three Christmas films have been nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. They were "Miracle on 34th Street," "It's a Wonderful Life," and "The Bishop's Wife" (1947). None of them won, and no Christmas films have been nominated since. It's not that none have been made since - in fact, Christmas films literally are made every year. Just turn on the Hallmark channel in December and you will see plenty of them.

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The decision to release "Miracle on 34th Street" during the summer led the studio to disguise the fact that it was a holiday movie. So, the studio changed the film's original title, "Christmas Miracle on 34th Street," to drop the reference to Christmas. But, make no mistake, it is clear right from the beginning that "Miracle on 34th Street" is all about Christmas and Santa Claus and holiday feelings. The romantic angle between John Payne and Maureen O'Hara which was such a focus of the initial marketing of "Miracle on 34th Street" is only a subplot that occupies very little of the film.

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There are few finer films to watch if you are in the holiday season. In fact, queue "Miracle on 34th Street" right after "It's a Wonderful Life" to continue a feel-good evening. There is a colorized version, but "Miracle on 34th Street" is better in the original version because there are stark contrasts drawn between doubt and trust that are best told in black and white.

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"Miracle on 34th Street" also has a lot of positive things to say about things like redemption and adoption and treating other people well, though sometimes they may not be obvious at first glance. If it's the holiday season when you read this, look in your local theater listings - there's often a showing of "Miracle on 34th Street" in a theater near you!



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"Miracle on 34th Street."

2018

Friday, April 20, 2018

Joan Bennett in "Highway Dragnet" (1954)


Joan Bennett and Some Other Fancy Rides

Highway Dragnet 1954 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com Poster
"Highway Dragnet" (1954).

"Highway Dragnet" (1954), directed by Nathan Juran, stars Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Wanda Hendrix and Reed Hadley (who has an amazing voice) in a routine murder mystery/chase film that almost certainly would have been the underbill on a typical double feature offering. Conte plays John Cassavetes of 20 years later, Hendrix does her best Mary Anne from "Gilligan's Island," and Joan plays, well, Joan at her diva best. I've already given you the plot above in only four words, but let me make it a little plainer: there's a murder, then a lengthy car chase, and then a resolution. Really, that's "Highway Dragnet," and everything else is simply padding (and I'm not talking about Joan Bennett's flowing, "Lawrence of Arabia" dress).

Highway Dragnet 1954 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Wanda Hendrix
Someone's been killed, and there's a clue as to whom the killer is in this still showing Wanda Hendrix, Joan Bennett, and Richard Conte - but you'll never figure it out unless you see "Highway Dragnet."

The plot ( is involved with that) is pedestrian - Joan Bennet's character basically announces the solution to the "big mystery" about halfway through - but, as I've said, I already gave you the plot. To give you an idea of the proceedings, the absurd coincidences abound (what are the odds that there would be two US Marines in civilian clothes being stopped at the same time at the same police checkpoint in the middle of the desert, enabling the suspect to get away?) which is part of the hammy fun. Joan gets lost in the desert, and everyone else is stumbling around looking for her and actually looking like they got lost in the desert - and she suddenly turns up unannounced as if she just dropped in by helicopter from a Beverly Hills beauty parlor.

Highway Dragnet 1954 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Wanda Hendrix
Joan is still lovely, but also definitely showing her years in the harsh desert sun.

What I want to do here instead is to make a few observations about the film as if it didn't have a plot - which is well-crafted with lots of complications and numerous "oh the phone rang so the suspect gets away from certain capture" moments. In other words, I am going to answer the question, why might you want to spend your time watching "Highway Dragnet" if a mundane murder mystery is not your cup of java?

Highway Dragnet 1954 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Wanda Hendrix
Lobby card from "Highway Dragnet."

I will confess here first that I decided to watch this film because I thought Jack Webb would pop up somewhere - he doesn't, but would have played the Sheriff perfectly. it's that kind of film - guy on the lam, so we get a lot of police procedural stuff. You know the drill if you've ever seen any episodes of any incarnation of "Dragnet."

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And here in "Highway Dragnet" we have your standard police (Reed Hadley on the right) in a cruiser scene just like "Adam 12" or, well, "Dragnet."

Anyway, this is a '50s car film. You will see an exotic parade of Nashes, and Kaisers in their original, dirty, busted-up true lives. In other words, none of the cars is in that "ultra-restored without a dent or smudge and that you can see yourself in the shine" condition that you see in more recent films that attempt to portray the '50s. Instead, this is a companion piece to, oh, "The Girl in Black Stockings" (1957), for example - lots of fabulous old girls that have whitewalls and hood ornaments and big, roomy trunks. These are the types of cars that would break down every 50 miles in the desert, but that was okay because then you would just pop the hood up, throw in some water or tweak the carburetor a little and you'd be rolling again. Guys were handy to have around if only because they knew cars - an undeniable fact of '50s life which basically sets up our story in "Highway Dragnet."

Highway Dragnet 1954 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com Richard Conte
Richard Conte making himself useful in "Highway Dragnet."

Did you know that if you stay in a state for over 30 days, you technically are supposed to re-register your car there? You'll learn that little tidbit in "Highway Dragnet" - and it's still true today. That's how deeply into car culture "Highway Dragnet" is. If you are a car buff, this is your film. Just don't expect a lot of tail-fins, those only came along a few years later. These are big, boxy, roomy cars that easily sat three in a seat. Oh, and if you were hungry, where would you stop? Why, the place called "Eats," of course.

Highway Dragnet 1954 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Wanda Hendrix


If you are still reading this and found any of the above interesting - this may be a good choice for you. Just ignore the silly plot, enjoy the visuals, drink in Joan Bennett's incredibly hammy performance, and set your Fluid Drive at cruising speed. Lots of evocative scenes of things gone by, such as the Salton Sea with actual water in it, Apple Valley Inn at its height, Fremont Street in its early glory. There's also lots of snarky, subversive, misleading dialog that is just hysterical, such as:
[Detective shows hotel manager picture of suspected Strap Killer]
Det. Sgt. Ben Barnett: Ever see him before?
Mr. Carson: Let's see... of course! Now I remember! He's the strap killer!
Det. Sgt. Ben Barnett: You've seen him?
Mr. Carson: Yes!
Det. Sgt. Ben Barnett: Where?
Mr. Carson: In the afternoon paper, his picture's on the front page!
and
Mr. Carson: Say, you don't think you'll find him around here, do you?
Det. Sgt. Ben Barnett: I don't know, I'm not familiar with the habits of the Strap Killer.
The actor who played Barnett, Tom Hubbard, is given credit for "additional dialog," so he may have been the one that came up with some of the snarkiness on the spot.

Highway Dragnet 1954 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com Joan Bennett
The lovely Joan Bennett with some of her tools of the trade in "Highway Dragnet."

Okay, overall, can I recommend watching "Highway Dragnet"? The answer to that is yes. It is quick (70-minute), clean (Joan is spotless) fun, and I honestly felt good about the ending, trite as it was. The set-up is good enough that when you see Joan writing in the Salton Sea, it's a great emotional payoff. An unknown classic if you like cheap, unassuming drive-in flicks.



2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Marilyn Monroe - Early Photos

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Marilyn Monroe.

Everybody knows who Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson; June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) is, because she is the premiere Hollywood sex symbol of all time. Virtually unknown at the start of the decade, she became the top female star of the 1950s.

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If by any chance you have that ID badge Marilyn is wearing, well, now you're rich.

She grew up in foster homes, and during World War II worked in the new aircraft factory (built in 1941) in Long Beach. Robert Mitchum recalled that he met her while they were both working there, when she was just plain old Norma Jeane.

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After the war, Marilyn decided to try her hand at modelling. Her first shoot was a dog commercial, shown above.

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She had no experience, but then, when you look like Marilyn Monroe, you don't really need any. Bikinis, incidentally, were not very common in the 1940s.

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The dog commercial attracted some notice because Norma Jeane was a pretty girl. She began to get some bit parts in Hollywood B movies.

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Nice monogrammed shirt!

Marilyn needed a better, catchier name. Mickey Rooney later claimed that Marilyn was in his, ahem, office one day when the subject of her stage name came up. A writer he knew was named Monroe Manning, and he simply told her "You're definitely a Marilyn."

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It is a good story, but the reality appears to be more mundane: her mentor Ben Lyon named her Marilyn after Marilyn Miller, and Monroe was Norma Jeane's mother's maiden name. Mickey was a great storyteller.

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Norma Jeane was not a shy girl. She was determined to get ahead, and she did. She shot what we would call "Cheesecake" photos early in her career, some of which were promptly lost and forgotten. However, many have turned up long after her untimely death in 1962. The beautiful shots below were found in a garage sale in New Jersey in the 1980s.

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Marilyn broke through to prominence in 1950, with some well-received performances in films like "The Asphalt Jungle." This led to starring turns in films such as "Niagara," one of the underrated classics of the 1950s due to Marilyn's unexpected insouciance as a troublemaking record lover.

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Right up until her breakthrough, though, she was cheerfully posing half- or all-nude for folks like Hugh Hefner.

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Marilyn later went on to film timeless classics such as "Some Like it Hot," "How to Marry a Millionaire" and "The Misfits." She changed her look, became a platinum blonde, and became the iconic legend. However, her best look of all is when she was a fresh-faced ingenue, eager to make a good impression and happy to please.

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Marilyn Monroe movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Marilyn Monroe movieloversreviews.filminspector.com


PAGEANT MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1952

How I Stay in Shape

By Marilyn Monroe

“Frankly, I’ve never considered my own figure so exceptional; until quite recently, I seldom gave it any thought at all. My biggest single concern used to be getting enough to eat. Now I have to worry about eating too much. I never used to bother with exercises. Now I spend at least 10 minutes each morning working out with small weights. I have evolved my own exercises, for the muscles I wish to keep firm, and I know they are right for me because I can feel them putting the proper muscles into play as I exercise.”

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She Doesn’t Like To Feel Regimented

EXERCISE. Each morning, after I brush my teeth, wash my face and shake off the first deep layer of sleep, I lie down on the floor beside my bed and begin my first exercise. It is a simple bust-firming routine which consists of lifting five-pound weights from a spread-eagle arm position to a point directly above my head. I do this 15 times, slowly. I repeat the exercise another 15 times from a position with my arms above my head. Then, with my arms at a 45-degree angle from the floor, I move my weights in circles until I’m tired. I don’t count rhythmically like the exercise people on the radio; I couldn’t stand exercise if I had to feel regimented about it.”

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How to Feel Blond All Over

SPORTS. I have never cared especially for outdoor sports, and have no desire to excel at tennis, swimming or golf. I’ll leave those things to the men. Despite its great vogue in California, I don’t think sun-tanned skin is any more attractive than white skin, or any healthier, for that matter. I’m personally opposed to a deep tan because I like to feel blond all over.

Pageant Magazine Marilyn Monroe movieloversreviews.filminspector.com


By nature, I suppose I have a languorous disposition. I hate to do things in a hurried, tense atmosphere, and it is virtually impossible for me to spring out of bed in the morning. On Sunday, which is my one day of total leisure, I sometimes take two hours to wake up, luxuriating in every last moment of drowsiness. Depending on my activities, I sleep between five and ten hours every night. I sleep in an extra-wide single bed, and I use only one heavy down comforter over me, summer or winter. I have never been able to wear pajamas or creepy nightgowns; they disturb my sleep.”

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A Set of Bizarre Eating Habits

BREAKFAST. I’ve been told that my eating habits are absolutely bizarre, but I don’t think so. Before I take my morning shower, I start warming a cup of milk on the hot plate I keep in my hotel room. When it’s hot, I break two raw eggs into the milk, whip them up with a fork, and drink them while I’m dressing. I supplement this with a multi-vitamin pill, and I doubt if any doctor could recommend a more nourishing breakfast for a working girl in a hurry.
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DINNER. My dinners at home are startlingly simple. Every night I stop at the market near my hotel and pick up a steak, lamb chops or some liver, which I broil in the electric oven in my room. I usually eat four or five raw carrots with my meat, and that is all. I must be part rabbit; I never get bored with raw carrots.

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P.S. It’s a good thing, I suppose, that I eat simply during the day, for in recent months I have developed the habit of stopping off at Wil Wright’s ice cream parlor for a hot fudge sundae on my way home from my evening drama classes. I’m sure that I couldn’t allow myself this indulgence were it not that my normal diet is composed almost totally of protein foods.”



2018

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Trailer


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There may be no more eagerly anticipated film this decade than "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (2015)

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"Star Wars: The Force Awakens," aka "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens," will appear in theaters beginning December 18, 2015, and undoubtedly for months thereafter.

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The film stars, in no particular order:

Mark Hamill
Carrie Fisher
Harrison Ford
Andy Serkis
Billie Lourd
Adam Driver
Peter Mayhew
Gwendoline Christie
Daisy Ridley
Oscar Isaac
Max von Sydow

Personally, I think the fact that Ming the Merciless made it into the Star Wars saga is kind of cool. Somewhat ironic, too.

The film is directed by J.J. Abrams and written by him and , and .

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Max von Sydow in another science fiction classic.


2017