CLASSICS FOR COMFORT: FEEL GOOD FILMS TO WATCH

Classic films abound in comforting stories and feel-good endings that are right for our times. After years of dystopian movies it’s great to have a plot that doesn’t have everybody dying. During  years of the Great Depression, war years, and finally getting back to normal in the 1950s, many movies wanted to look at the sunny side of the street. The Classic Movie Blog Association’s Spring Blogathon is now Classics for Comfort My five recommended favorites are listed below:

Jack Carson & Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas. Warner Brothers.

ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948) Warner Bros, Directed by Michael Curtiz.  If you haven’t been anywhere and haven’t had a laugh in weeks – you’ll be vicariously voyaging and belly laughing with this movie. Romance on the High Seas was Doris Day’s film debut, and it also starred Jack Carson, Oscar Levant, Janis Page and S.Z Sakall. It’s a real screwball comedy, and here the joke is on some of the characters. Doris Day as Georgia Garrett, is a nightclub singer aching to take a ship cruise. Instead she just takes out travel brochures since she can’t afford a trip. Janis Page as Elvira Kent is well-off but jealous of her husband, who is always cancelling their honeymoon trips and now has a new attractive secretary. Elvira and Georgia bump into each other at the travel agency and exchange stories. Elvira is booking a cruise to Rio with her husband, which then gets cancelled. Her uncle Lazlo (S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall), tells her just to go alone. Elvira then schemes to stay in town where she can spy on her husband, and she asks Georgia to take her place, which Georgia is thrilled to do. But Georgia is told that she must uphold Elvira’s proper high society reputation since Georgia will be travelling under Elvira’s name – so no flirting with male travelers. Meanwhile Elvira’s husband is equally jealous, and he hires a private detective to take the voyage and spy on “Elvira.” The P.I. is played by Jack Carson, who in no time once shipboard falls for Georgia/Elvira and vice-versa. The shipboard fun is enlivened by Latin-inspired music and Doris’s singing. The  late 1940s wardrobe designed by Milo Anderson and the 1940’s Deco sets make for smashing visuals. The romantic confusion continues however, as Georgia’s old boyfriend (Oscar Levant) appears from a port of call, and then Elvira’s jealous husband flies to Rio, where by then everybody is either dodging each other or trying to make up with their permanent mate.  Michael Curtiz directed the film. Doris Day was not happy with her acting and asked Curtiz where she could get a drama coach.  “No, no!” Curtiz replied, “You’re a natural just as you are, if you learn how to act, you’ll ruin everything.”

 

William Powell & Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey. Universal Pictures

MY MAN GODFREY (1936) Universal. Directed by Gregory La Cava. If you don’t think there’s salvation and the plot of a screwball comedy in a homeless camp during the Great Depression, you haven’t seen My Man Godfrey. The story starts in New York as two rich sisters, Cornelia and Irene Bullock played by Gail Patrick and Carole Lombard, go to the city dump to obtain a “forgotten man” for a scavenger hunt party. Cornelia offers $5 to the down-and-out Godfrey Parke played by William Powell. The well-spoken Godfrey is offended by her snobbish manner and pushes Cordelia into a trash heap. Irene thinks that’s funny. Godfrey is charmed by Irene and agrees to play along. He is such a refined homeless character that Irene wins the scavenger hunt game at the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel. But Godfrey is disgusted with the whole idea and wants to return to his homeless camp. Irene is so smitten with him that she offers him a job as their family butler. Once at their mansion, the absent-minded society Mom and Papa Bullock, are charmed too. The couple are played by Alice Brady and Eugene Palette. Mother Angelica is always distracted and father Alexander can’t believe he lives with this bunch and worries about money. But mean sister Cornelia thinks about how to get back at Godfrey, and then there’s a free-loading protégé named Carlos who adds to the wackiness of the household. Godfrey carries out his butler duties with great skill and polish. At a tea party thrown by Irene, one of the guests recognizes Godfrey as a fellow Harvard man. Godfrey silences him, but it seems that our butler is not who he seems to be. Between Irene’s crush on him and his unflappable demeanor, Cornelia decides to play dirty. She plants her pearls under his mattress and says they were stolen. But Godfrey is a clever man. He not only graduated from Harvard, but he lived on the streets. This family may be wacky and have a mean-spirited daughter, but maybe he can do some good. And the homeless camp at the dump might just become useful.

 

Katharine Hepburn & Ginger Rogers in Stage Door, RKO Pictures

STAGE DOOR (1937) RKO. Directed by Gregory La Cava. The 1930s were the era of “women’s films,” and here’s a perfect movie of the type. It is witty, it has an all-star women’s cast, and it is simply unforgettable and comforting  in its resolution of the conflicts inherent in a boarding house full of struggling actresses. The 1930s were also the era of wise-cracking dames. And the snappy dialogue launches you right into the story. The cast includes Katharine Hepburn as Terry Randall, an aspiring actress from a rich Midwestern family. The haughty Terry lands in a group of world-weary actresses and chorus girls boarding at the Footlights Club in New York. From the beginning Terry antagonizes Jean Maitland as played by Ginger Rogers. Then they find out they’ll be roommates. The other wise-cracking boarders were also like oil and water with Terry. Except for Gail Patrick as the ambitious sophisticate and venomous Linda Shaw. The super cast included Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and a very young Ann Miller. The “house mother” and acting advisor is played by Constance Collier, an actress famous in the silent era. A very earnest member of the house is loved by all, Kay Hamilton, played by Andrea Leeds. Kay had starred in a play the previous year, but now can’t find a role. The key theatrical producer is played by Adolphe Menjou as Anthony Powell. When the desperate and malnourished Kay visits his offices but is denied an appointment she faints. Terry (Katharine Hepburn) was also waiting and barges into Powell’s office to berate him for his callousness. He is unphased, until later he learns that Terry’s father wants to secretly bankroll a play, Enchanted April so she can get the lead role. If only things were that simple. Powell is a notorious womanizer, making advances on Terry and Jean. But Terry is weak as an actress and has bad rehearsals; and the lovable Kay had wanted that part. Kay is now giving Terry acting tips. Menjou/Anthony Powell sees a disastrous play in the works. It will take a tragedy for all of these disparate characters to come together in this bittersweet gem of a movie.

 

LADY FOR A DAY (1933) Columbia Pictures. Directed by Frank Capra

Apple Annie, played by May Robson, was  once a stage performer but has now fallen on hard times. She sent her daughter for schooling in a convent in Spain. She sends her the money she collects from selling apples on a street corner. Only now  her daughter is grown-up and making a surprise visit to see her mother in New York. Apple Annie has a network of friends in the neighborhood, one of which is the doorman at the Hotel Maybery. He provides her hotel stationary on which she writes her daughter under her assumed name of Mrs. E. Worthington Manville. But not only is Annie’s daughter coming for a visit, but she is bringing her fiancé  Carlos, and his father Count Romero.  Annie is beside herself, not knowing how she is ever going to keep from shaming her daughter. Ever since she got her daughter’s letter she has been drinking and not getting out of bed. This has been noticed by “Dave the Dude,” played by Warren William. He’s a racketeer and gambler who relies on buying Annie’s “lucky apples.” All of Annie’s neighborhood street friends are worried, and having heard of the problem, ask Dave the Dude to rent rooms at the Maybery so Anne can receive her daughter in style. They will even put up some of their meager earnings. When Dave visits Annie he sees a portrait of her beautiful daughter and understands her situation. He will put her up at the Maybery.  Dave gets his girlfriend Missouri Martin (Glenda Farrell) to dress Annie up as a society matron. She’ll have to have a husband so the Dude gets the pool shark, alias  Judge Henry D. Blake  (Guy Kibbee) for the part.

This assemblage is all lined up at the docks as Louise’s ship arrives and a tearful but happy reunion is celebrated and acquaintances made with the new  prospective in-laws. A journalist  happens to be there, however, and before the well-known “gangster” mug of Dave the Dude can be noted with the new arriving dignitaries, “Happy” his partner, kidnaps the reporter. And with cops around, the other street characters start a fight to divert the cops from the Dude’s presence. All is going well in this underworld scheme-for-the-good. But life is full of surprises, even a movie life. When all has gone smoothly and the visitors announce they are returning to Spain, “The Judge” announces he and “Mrs. Worthington Manville” will have a party for their departing guests. He has also asked the Dude to round up guests, meaning to turn Missouri’s “gals” and the Dude’s “mugs” into society people. Meanwhile, several more reporters have been kidnapped and the Police Commissioner, under pressure from the Mayer, is cracking down on Police Captains to find the missing reporters. Just when all the mugs and gals are at Missouri’s club rehearsing polite behavior  before going to the party,  the cops come in for a bust.  It looks like no one will show for Apple Annie’s  going-away party for her daughter, fiancé, and Spanish guest. Annie is thinking about confessing the whole charade to them. But life is full of surprises, especially movie lives.

 

You Can’t Take it With You. Shown at center, from left: James Stewart, Jean Arthur Courtesy Columbia Pictures/Photofest

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) Columbia Pictures. Directed by Frank Capra.

There’s nothing like a great ensemble cast from the Golden Age of Hollywood – even when most of them play wacky members of an eccentric family.  The patriarch of this family is Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, played by Lionel Barrymore. He refuses to sell his house, the last property in the area, to tycoon, hard as nails,  Anthony P. Kirby, who wants to squeeze out his competitor’s factory. Kirby is played by Edward Arnold. Grandpa has a large household: his daughter Penny Sycamore (Spring Byington) and her husband Paul  Sycamore (Samuel S. Hinds); Their daughter  Essie (Anne Miller), married to Ed (Dub Taylor). Each one has followed their whims as far as avocation: Penny is a playwright (for no other reason than she was given a typewriter); Paul makes fireworks; their daughter Essie dances ballet around the house and makes candy, which her husband  Ed delivers  around town. Essie’s sister is Alice, who has a real job – she works for Tony Kirby, the tycoon’s son.  Alice, played by Jean Arthur, and Tony, played by Jimmy Stewart, love each other. Tony thinks that it’s time that their parents should meet each other,  Alice is nervous but agrees and sets a date. Mrs Kirby does not approve of her son’s choice for a love interest. Tony starts to think that Alice’s parents will start putting on a show trying to impress his parents (how little he knows) and therefore decides to visit the Vanderhof/Sycamore clan a day early. And so begins a whirlwind ride that starts literally when fireworks explode in the basement during dinner and continues in the jail and then at a courthouse. Mr Kirby is cantankerous to everybody the entire way, while Grandpa tries to tell him about the importance of having friends. Who’s going to win this battle, and is there any hope for Alice and Tom?  Watch this jewel of a romantic screwball comedy to find out.

22 thoughts on “CLASSICS FOR COMFORT: FEEL GOOD FILMS TO WATCH”

  1. Stage Door is one of my favorite films. Glad to find another big fan! Such amazing dialogue, so many likeable characters. Don’t you just want to hang out in the Footlights Club?

  2. Yes!! Romance on the High Seas just barely missed making my list. It’s probably my favorite Doris film…especially love her feisty performance of “Put ’em in a box” …always brings a smile.

  3. Your wry observation of films where everyone doesn’t die almost made me spew my latte all over my keyboard. So true!

    I love your choices, and I especially love how stylish each film is. They’re wonderfully witty, but not without a social message.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I got a kick out of your reaction to my commentary on dystopian films. But yes, when you’re living through it you don’t need to see it for your entertainment. I’m glad too that you enjoyed my picks, all comforting I thought and well made.

  4. A great array of classics for comfort, Christian. I haven’t seen most for a long, long time and it’s nice to be reminded of more options while staying in.

    I have to say that Michael Curtiz’s advice to Doris Day was on the money. I don’t know if she ever did have acting lessons but she got better and better with the years. I’m guessing she just became more comfortable and confident in front of the camera.

    1. Thanks Lady Eve for your comment.I thought this bunch particular comforting and satisfying in their stories. Some through distraction and some with a moral. But yes Doris Day was just and old-fashioned entertainer
      like they don’t make any more. And she just got better if a bit caricatured as she went on. This goofy movie is certain to make you laugh and forget your troubles. This blogathon was a great idea. Thanks for the CMBA theme.

  5. I love your picks. But oh, “After years of dystopian movies it’s great to have a plot that doesn’t have everybody dying.” My word, yes. Sometimes I think I’d like to scratch “dystopian” right out of the dictionary. So ready for the pendulum to swing back to hopeful and happy films.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jacqueline. I’m glad you got a kick out of that line. Really it had gotten so that 8 out of 10 movies were dystopian and the others were horror.
      Now that we’re living some it its not entertaining any more.

  6. My Man Godfrey is a great choice! It’s so good that it’s easy to forget how difficult it is to make a funny comedy with some meaningful social commentary. The David Niven remake has a good cast, too, but it’s nowhere near as good.

  7. You Can’t Take It With You never fails to warm my heart. Actually, I feel that way about most of Capra’s films and can’t believe none of them made my own list.

  8. So many delightful films here, Christian. My Man Godfrey is hilarious. Love a bit of William Powell. Have never seen Romance On The High Seas, but it sounds like one I’d love. Maddy

  9. I feel better already! You picked quite a charming group of wonderful films. I especially love that you included Romance on the High Seas. I’m glad Doris took the acting advice of her director. Her naturalness was high art.

    1. I’m glad you feel better Marsha – you have to with these movies. Even if you are tired of lock down and feel adventurous. High Seas will give you that – and make you wonder were those big ships ever fun?
      Well Doris Day was from the beginning. I think she would have continued as herself no matter what Curtiz said.

  10. Two of Capras best and Gail Patrick every time you turn around. These are comfort movies indeed.

    The first note of Doris singing It’s Magic brings happy tears to my eyes.

    Note: I do not believe I have yet shown Stage Door to my daughter. Well, as long as we’re in lockdown…

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