Jul 7, 2008

To Be Seeing You, Pat and Mike

  No stressful, school-laden week is replete without a respite into the realm of classic movies, I've discovered: even 90 minutes in the silvery screen presences of uberstuds like Dennis Morgan or dashing comedic greats like Jack Benny is enough to renew my passion for the films of yore and to sate the vintage vixen in me. These three recently-viewed films, then, are enough to keep me happy long after summer's through - so take note, check your popcorn stock, and do indulge in:

To Be or Not To Be (1942) - The notion of seeing unrivaled radio and television star Jack Benny - who not only set entertainment standards with his delectable radio and television shows and rich, timeless humor, but who was himself an enduring element of 20th century entertainment - as the deadpan husband of glamorous Carole Lombard was, well, a bit unsettling. How could I accept him as anything but the notorious violin-playing cheapskate character he so believably perpetuated for nearly fifty years? I shouldn't have worried, though: Benny's appearances are brief but side-splitting as the somewhat cuckolded straight man cast in a Poland-set, Nazi-infused muddle of love, intrigue, spies, and the abiding hope that the right men will be fooled at the right times. Director Ernst Lubitsch deftly balances tension and wartime grimness with lighthearted farce and audience-flattering intelligent plot twists, all while showcasing the talents of his favored bit players and the best aspects of his stars' appeal. I definitely recommend this sweet, smart comedy.

I'll Be Seeing You (1945) - Oh, Ginger. Just when I thought 1940's stellar Kitty Foyle was the lone epitome of red-haired Rogers' touching dramatic acting skills, her turn as pensive prisoner Mary Marshall in I'll Be Seeing You convinced me that she is among the most dexterous screen stars of all time. Though the film's appeal lies in the evident and inherent redeemable qualities of its lead characters - the Rogers' heartsick Marshall and Cotten as her shy, self-doubting, shaky suitor - this is no mere wartime weepy; under its engaging, romantic plot are rich commentaries on acceptance and prejudice, love and loneliness, salvation and sanguinity. An added bonus (as though you needed one amidst the romance and heartache) is the haunting and melodic title track, a version of which is featured in the film performed by vocalist Helen Forrest (one of my perennial faves) and which has since become a timeless American Standard.

Pat and Mike (1952) - Every so often there is a film so transcendent of the era in which it was produced, so sturdy despite its soon-dated hairstyles and music styles and clothing styles, that it can be seen and appreciated in light of the day it is screened, be it days or decades later. Pat and Mike is one such film. This sparkling comedic gem, the fusion of four-part brilliance emanating from writers Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon and their friends, stars Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, imparts a likable plot conducive not only to easy humor, but to evidencing the appeal of the latter two talents, screen icons both.
Hepburn, a real-life athlete skilled in numerous sports, takes to her role of gym-teacher-turned-female-sports-star with enviable vigor and agility, while it's clear from his introduction that venerable old Tracy delights in channeling his roguish side to bring rough, tender-hearted, slightly legitimate business manager Mike Conovan to life. It's entertainment enough just to see Spence revert from his typical meted, articulate screen presence to talking in bum-lingo, and Kate relish her foray as fast-talking, sports-dominating, skirt-loathing feminist Pat - aside from their tender turn in their final screen collaboration, 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Pat and Mike may well be the pair's most true-to-life characterizations. And tee for tee, match for match - we're the ones who win big for having this sporting, delectable comedy to savor long after tournament's end.

For access to these and hundreds of other similarly-scrumptious classic movies, I recommend checking out your local cable lineup for channels like Turner Classic Movies, utilizing your library or video rental stores, or becoming a customer of home-delivered movie rental programs such as Netflix.

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