Dec 29, 2006

Christmas Comes But Once A Year

Whereas Christmases past usually involved the anguish of surreptitiously investigating my presents and shoving those deemed to be sweaters or leggings under nearby furniture to avoid opening them, this week's holiday found me absolutely aglow with gratitude for such great gifts. It seems 2006 was the year I successfully established that if it didn't relate to classic film in some way, perhaps I would be better off giftless, for I had no use for it - my passion for the silver screen has indeed affected my taste in films, music, literature, and even clothing, jewelry and makeup, among other interests, so it makes sense that I was positively rabid to find these beneath the tree:

Bogie and Bacall: The Signature Collection is four discs of forties film heaven. Having emulated Lauren's lustrous locks and sultry eyes and developed a crush on Bogie since seeing The Big Sleep in my teens, I was smitten with the collection's beautiful black-and-white cover when I came across it at Target months ago, and was thrilled to own it come Christmas Eve. Included are the only four movies this iconic real-life couple made together: 1944's To Have and Have Not, which was also Bacall's big screen debut; 1946's The Big Sleep, a fabulous Howard Hawks-directed thriller; Dark Passage, which, despite being a solid film with sweet, sweet tension and inventive camerawork, many consider to be the weakest of the pair's pairings, from 1947; and the star-studded drama Key Largo (1948), which boasts a cast that includes Lionel Barrymore, Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor. The only improvements I could see upon this stunning set would be a biography of Lauren and Humph, be it a DVD a la the Thin Man boxset or a booklet, detailing their separate careers, their romance, and the legendary partnership that transferred from the silver screen to real life.

Gone With the Wind: Four Disc Collector's Edition
Whether you love the drama and romance of this sweeping 1939 epic, or you can't believe you wasted four hours of your life on Scarlett's whining, Rhett's swashbuckling, and Ashley's pantywaist tendencies, you must admit: Gone With the Wind is a pretty damn impressive movie. The newest collector's edition boasts the film itself on two discs, brilliantly restored using Warner Brother's Ultra-Resolution technique, and its vivid color and unmistakable score by Max Steiner are perhaps even more impressive here than they were during the film's theatre premiere.
The two discs of extras include an absolute plethora of backstories and behind-the-scenes information, highlights of which are a two-hour documentary on the making of the film, created by producer David Selznick's sons, footage from the movie's 1939 debut, and an in-depth look at the restorative processes that lend this release its superb visual and audio quality. The fourth disc focuses on the lives of GWTW's stars: with three of the four leads deceased as of 1967, the task of reminiscing has long been relegated to the only remaining main cast member, the delicate screen legend Olivia de Havilland. Her chatty retrospective was filmed specifically for this and, if not rife with new details and inside stories, offers unique and valuable perspectives and recollections from someone identified very closely with the movie.

If you're a fan who doesn't yet own this film, this DVD edition is paramount in terms of quality, presentation, and extras, and it retails for a surprisingly low price: it's a cool $17.99 brand new on

The Glenn Miller Story (1953) After convincing my sister to rent 1948's The Stratton Story on a whim back in October, we came to the mutual conclusion that if there was anything better than watching Jimmy Stewart onscreen, it was watching Jimmy romance June Allyson. Pretty, petite, and perseverant, Allyson complements Stewart's lanky, laid-back Everyman perfectly, and their onscreen chemistry is arguably among the most poignant and heartfelt of all movie couples - it's surprising that, given their respective longevity and popularity, the two only collaborated in three films over a six-year period: 1948's Stratton, 1953's The Glenn Miller Story, and Strategic Air Command (1956).

While I admittedly haven't seen this film yet, I am rabidly awaiting its arrival - at this rate it will be a New Year's Gift - and I can't stress enough, don't buy from eBay powersellers!

I also received the out-of-print VHS version of Sex and the Single Girl, a 1964 sex comedy that pairs Henry Fonda against Lauren Bacall and Tony Curtis against Natalie Wood, commencing in one gloriously overblown misunderstanding after another - it's no classic, but as far as campy, esoteric films riddled with my favorite stars go, this one's delish. I was also delighted to find that my beloved sister had left a dvd copy of the Danny Kaye/Dinah Shore film Up In Arms under the tree for me (no doubt paying me back for introducing her to the wonders of June Allyson). Ahhh, Christmas. With this many fabulous movies at my disposal, I don't know how I'll ever find the motivation to start school in a few weeks....blecch.

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Dec 27, 2006

New Year, New Look

In honor of the new year approaching, I've updated the look of Hillary's Classic Cinema to reflect some of the changes my tastes have undergone since I started blogging in early 2006 - namely, Barbara Stanwyck! I discovered her only months ago, but she's become such an integral part of classic movies to me that I can't imagine a movie collection without her (Sugarpuss O'Shea, anyone?). Yes, that's Stany's pretty portrait on the new blog logo above, and the same image has been replicated in the favicon, the tiny graphic beside the blog address in your search bar, which I created expressly for HCC (these images show up best in a Mozilla Firefox browser). Stay tuned for more tweaks and additions to the site in the coming weeks, as I develop more relevant and useful links for you to peruse, create new post categories like Photo of the Week and Movie of the Month, and perhaps even share a bit more about myself and my love for cinema on a separate About Me page (admit it - you really want to hear about my hopeless crush on Henry Fonda, don't you!). I hope both the reinvented layout and my wildly enthusiastic posts keep you coming back to discover more and to share your thoughts, comments, and suggestions.

Aside from Miss Stanwyck, though, there are countless other screen stars I grew up unaware of, whose film legacies I now treasure: June Allyson, Henry Fonda, and Margaret O'Brien are just three of the legendary faces of the 1930's, 40's and 50's that I count among my very favorites. By screening new genres of film and remaining relatively unbiased in my viewing (my inexplicable distaste for Fred MacMurray, for instance, remains a stumbling block in expanding my film list), I've discovered many incredible movies, directors, and stars that I could never have forseen adoring.

What film or actor that you now count among your favorites, did you discover or rediscover in 2006? Post below!

Dec 3, 2006

Read It and Weep

...out of sheer joy, that is. As someone who considers myself a dedicated cinephile, my love for, and interest in, classic movies can't be relegated to merely watching movies themselves - it has slowly spanned into the realm of literature, as well. From cliche coffee table books on leading ladies to the most intimate of Tinseltown memoirs (I've learned all I need to know about Jane Fonda's female anatomy, thanks), these reads more than sated my voracious appetite for gaining insight on the bygone days of Hollywood and the many stars that dotted its heavens. Below is the best of what I've read in 2006:

By Myself, Lauren Bacall - The cinema star's 1978 autobiography is unusually candid, alluringly honest, and delightfully insightful. Far from a typical Hollywood recitation of Bacall's film resume, it instead paints a vivid and engaging portrait of her long and interesting life - from her strong Jewish roots in New York City to her foray into acting and her iconic marriage to Humphrey Bogart, describing in heartwrenching detail his struggle with cancer and untimely death in 1957, and touching on the subsequent relationships, career moves, and enlightening experiences she's seen since then. Bacall describes her personal loves and losses, not to mention some famous characters like Adlai Stevenson, Burgess Meredith and Frank Sinatra, in a heartfelt fashion that's refreshingly free of fanfare and makes evident her intelligence and wit. Though it's decidedly lacking in scandal - no bonafide lover of classic film would ever reproach her May-December romance with Bogie - By Myself is definitely anything but dull: it's an endearing account of a strong woman's fascinating life both in and out of the footlights of Hollywood, and its poignance lingers long after it's finished.

Kate Remembered, A. Scott Berg - Opening Berg's Kate Remembered is like gathering with distant relatives for the holiday season: it's just as rife with familiar characters, colorful ancedotes and enlightening new perspectives, only these are all centralized on the inarguably intriguing Katharine Hepburn. While Hepburn's autobiography is a book about a legend, by a legend, Berg's work is a thoughtful, loving, and most humanizing portrait of the elusive star that covers less ground biographically and focuses instead on her day-to-day existence in the final decades of her century-spanning life. As a close confidant and frequent guest of Hepburn's, the author chronicles Hep's life through her own memories and admissions, seamlessly fusing her candid musings on her family, her relationships, and her decades-spanning career with deliciously voyeuristic accounts of her everyday activities and her multitude of idiosyncracies. Dinner parties, shopping excursions, conversation-filled evenings at her private Fenwick - Berg allows the reader to sit in on them all, and the result is an effectively entertaining and moving portrait of this enduring American screen icon.

My Life So Far, Jane Fonda - When my reading of Henry Fonda's mildly interesting autobiography happened to coincide with my first viewing of his daughter Jane's Barefoot in the Park (1967), I was determined to find out more about the perky, notorious offspring of my favorite leading man and soon sought out her autobiography. I wasn't prepared, however, to read such a disarmingly honest account of this woman, forthright and intelligent, who bypasses the typical celebrity dirt-dishing to focus on cathartically examining the first 67 years of her life, including the loss of her mother at age 12, her lifelong body image issues, her marriages and perceived shortcomings at parenting, and her involvement in the political and feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s that she is so identified with. Aside from being a fixture in one of Hollywood's foremost filmmaking dynasties, Fonda is clearly an articulate woman with an engaging sense of humor who has traveled far, concocting phrases and painting recollections so vividly and with such deference to her related emotional, physical, and mental states that one can't help but be captivated by her struggles and self-awareness. With anecdotes about stars like acting coach Lee Strasberg, contemporaries like Anthony Perkins, and Fonda's idols Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn, My Life So Far is a truly engrossing autobiography that reveals a side to the iconic actress, activist, and fitness guru that few would have forseen - a shy, well-educated, self-conscious woman seeking peace and self-acceptance, so different from her public persona. I'm grateful as both an avid classic movie fan and a young woman that I can benefit from Fonda's insight and unabashed frankness; I highly recommend it.

Who The Hell's In It: Portraits and Conversations, Peter Bogdanovich - Comprised of dozens of intimate conversations with some of Hollywood's most celebrated names, Who The Hell's In It is like finding a forgotten scrapbook with juicy clippings from old Photoplays, except the polish of reserved formal interviews and posed photographs doesn't exist here. Each chapter - they're arranged in the general order in which the author came to know and interview each celebrity - is more engrossing than that last, and Bogdanovich's narration allows for the reader ultimate voyeurism into the lives of these larger-than-life personalities we feel we know so well.

As a friend and business associate of the majority of the stars covered in his book, Peter is not only incredibly knowledgeable of the technical aspects of the studio era, but he generously indulges in his behind-the-scenes experiences with some of Hollywood's greatest icons. He dines with Jack Lemmon and wife Felicia Farr in Los Angeles in the 1960's; visits Jimmy Stewart sporadically at his home over the course of nearly forty years; shares a plane ride with Marlene Dietrich - his interaction with these icons is endless, and covers both personal and professional fronts, from private dinner parties to huge gala ceremonies. While Bogdanovich speaks reverently of each person he has written an engaging piece on, he also sheds a most humanizing light on each - his point of view is an alluring mixture of awestruck, devoted fan and respectful, artistic contemporary. His writing is a touch objective, but one can't be critical, as this encyclopedia-like collection is more than likely the only place such a gathering of stars has ever been immortalized in print with such reverence. Check it out now!

Some other titles I hope to find under the tree and enjoy in 2007:
June Allyson by June Allyson
The Way We Wore by Marsha Hunt
Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery by David Soren
Debbie: My Life by Debbie Reynolds
The Girl Next Door and How She Grew by Jane Powell

All of the above books are available at reasonable rates on, but for those with a stricter budget, I recommend browsing eBay,, or your local library for these titles. You can always find a Half Price Books near you, too!

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Dec 1, 2006

Movie of the Month

I was thrilled to come across this veritable gem of a holiday film while resting from a traumatically disappointing Thanksgiving last week (our pies melted...all of them), and after buying the DVD with much haste, I must admit I've fallen in love. White Christmas is simply a classic in every sense of the word.

Regardless of how you feel about musicals, it's a rare heart that isn't touched by this film in some way, be it its humor, or simply the sentiments provoked by its timeless title tune. Christmas boasts an inimitable pairing of great talents: Bing Crosby, the voice of an era; the velvety-voiced, fresh-faced Rosemary Clooney; the lithe, delicate and under-appreciated dancer Vera-Ellen; and lanky comic Danny Kaye, whose considerable comedic talents are slightly subdued as he plays the meddling pal to Crosby's straight man. The musical segments are in turn tender and hilarious, Vera-Ellen's choreography displays stunning athleticism and sizzle, and Kaye proves a formidable partner on their paired number, while celebrated crooners Clooney and Crosby both provide memorable ballads, allowing each of the four leads to showcase their own discrete talents in the film. And you can't overlook the efforts of veteran director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy), the unforgettable melodies of Irving Berlin, or the distinctly beautiful costume designs of Edith Head, whose signature styles appear in over four hundred classic films.

Though its two-hour runtime can be a bit weary after repeated viewings within one holiday season, much can be said for its reasonably sturdy plot, a rare element of its contemporary musicals, and for the nearly-seamless manner in which the songs and choreographed segments are incorporated into the storyline. Romance, loyalty, nostalgia, Christmases past: there's something to appeal to everyone, from its unforgettable theme song right down to its Vistavision format. If White Christmas isn't a holiday tradition for you and yours, it certainly should be...but don't blame me when you tear up during "Count Your Blessings".

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