Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Autumn 2018 To-Do List

Here are all the things I want to accomplish this autumn, so between now and the end of November.



~ Read Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

~ Read 5 other books from my TBR shelves

~ Read 3 books for my Classics Club list

~ Read 3 books from the library


~ Watch 5 movies from my TBW shelves

~ Go see the 2011 Jane Eyre with a bunch of friends

~ Go see Crazy Rich Asians

~ Go see First Man

~ Go see Bad Times at the El Royale

~ Go see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald


~ Get together with some blogging friends again, somewhere, somehow

~ Make copycat Frankenmouth hot buttered noodles -- I loved them so much as a kid when we lived in Michigan and visited Frankenmout once a year or so!  Can't wait to try these!

~ Make apple crisp muffins


~ Take our kids camping in the Shenandoah Valley

~ Order photos -- I've failed at this so far, but maybe I can make it happen this fall.

~ Start writing the first draft of my next book

~ Run down to Colonial Williamsburg at least once


(All photos taken by me.)

How about you?  Got any fun plans for this fall?  Books you want to read, movies you want to see, places you want to go?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"Designing Woman" (1957)

Happy birthday to one of my favorite actresses, Lauren Bacall!  Today would have been her 94th birthday!


To celebrate, I rewatched Designing Woman for the first time in almost twenty years.  Don't take that number to mean that I don't like this movie much -- far from it!  The truth is, I saw this at a friend's house when I was in college, and I really, really dug it... but it wasn't available on video.  Also, I was a poor college student who couldn't buy every movie she liked.




I'm no longer a poor college student, but I still don't have enough money to buy every movie I like :-(  However, I DO have enough to buy quite a few, especially if I find them used at the thrift store or the local used book/movie store.  (And sometimes online too, yes.)  And a few months ago, I found a Lauren Bacall 4-pack of movies on DVD.  I already had two of them, but I was so excited to find Designing Woman at last that I bought the whole set just to get it.  I held onto it until just the right time for a rewatch, which turned out to be this weekend, in honor of her birthday.

Designing Woman is a gender-swapped Cinderella story.  One of the things that makes it funny is that the guy in the story doesn't realize it's a gender-swapped version until about a quarter of the way through the film.  I really love what this movie has to say about modern gender assumptions, women in the workforce, and the difficulty of striking a balance between personal life and work.  Those themes are just as relevant today as they were when the film was made 51 years ago, which is part of why it works so well still.

The other part, of course, is that the main characters are played by Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck, both of whom could elevate any ordinary script into something delightful.


But this isn't an ordinary script.  This is a quirky, smart, sharply witty script with class and charm and sizzle.  You can tell from the opening scene that this is a story that doesn't take itself entirely seriously.  How can you tell that?


Easy.  The first scene has Mike (Gregory Peck) breaking the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience as he explains that he's here to fill us in on the truth about the infamous goings-on up in New York City not too long ago.  Definitely quirky.


Marilla (Lauren Bacall) then gets her chance to assure us she'll be sharing her side of the story as well.  So do Lori (Delores Gray) and Zachary (Tom Helmore) and Maxie (Mickey Shaughnessy).  Throughout the rest of the film, these five characters will give us their thoughts on the story via voice-overs, some of which make me laugh more than the regular dialog.


It all starts in California at a raucous party where sportswriter Mike buys drinks for everyone in sight.  He's just won more than a thousand dollars betting on a golfing tournament, and he's feeling pretty good about himself.


The next morning, he's feeling much the reverse.  Especially when he realizes he can't remember if he filed his story about the tournament with the big newspaper in New York that has made him fairly famous.  He also discovers he only has a few dollars in his pocket -- what happened to that thousand?


Mike runs into a chatty woman by his hotel's pool -- she insists he gave her $700 the night before.  He imagines what that money might have been for and tries to elude her.  But she's persistent.  Finally, she manages to explain to him that she helped him write an article for his newspaper and file it, and he paid her for her assistance.  But she doesn't feel she ought to keep that much money, as surely one little newspaper article can't be worth that much.


He insists she keep it, she insists she can't, and they finally decide to just spend all of it together over the next couple of days before they both have to fly back  to NYC, where they both live and work.


Two days stretches into two weeks, and one quickie wedding later, they're flying back to New York as man and wife.


Mike is excited about the prospect of introducing his new wife to his well-paid, high-flying life.  He knows she's a working girl with a job in the clothing industry and assumes she shares a tiny flat with a friend and will be happy and excited to move in with him.  He's sure his apartment has plenty of room for two, plus whatever bits of furniture and clothes she brings with her.


Yes, Mike is convinced he's Prince Charming and has rescued Cinderella from her lowly city life.


It comes as quite a shock to him when he discovers that nope, she's a wealthy, glamarous, in-demand fashion designer with an apartment that could swallow his whole.  She has sophisticated friends, wears chic clothes, dines well, and is generally so high up the social ladder that they've never met because his associates are beneath hers.  (The whole film was dreamed up by costume designer Helen Rose, and it includes a vast variety of gorgeous '50s clothes.  I could devote a whole blog post to the costumes alone.  Maybe someday I will.)


In other words, she's Princess Charming and he's Cinderelliot.  He takes this reversal remarkably well, all things considered.  He doesn't seem to spend much time obsessing over the fact that his wife is better-paid than he is.  But he clashes with her over her friends, going so far as to make crass assumptions about the sexual orientation of choreographer Randy Owens (Jack Cole, actual choreographer for the film).  The moviemakers upend those expectations too -- Randy Owens may dance like a loony bird, but he has a wife and football-player sons and ends up saving the day at the very end of the film with some inventive fighting-ballet.  (Sorry, probably should've said Spoiler Alert there.)


Mike keeps publishing articles about a mobster who is fixing prizefights.  The mobster doesn't like this.  Mike shrugs off his threats at first, but eventually, his editor convinces him to go into hiding until he's gathered enough evidence for the authorities to step in and take the mobster down.  Mike has a big fight with Marilla right before he leaves -- she found a picture of Lori (Delores Gray), an old flame of Mike's, and thinks he's still carrying on with her on the side.  Mike doesn't tell Marilla where he's going, or what danger he's in, he just leaves, taking along an ex-fighter named Maxie (Mickey Shaughnessy) who is permanently punch-drunk.


Maxie is strange and endearing and as loyal as a bulldog.  He protects Mike against anyone who looks cross-eyed at them.  And the funniest part of the film, to me, comes along while Mike and Maxie are holed up in a hotel, but I won't spoil that bit for you.  Just know that it makes me laugh aloud.


Of course, everything gets resolved eventually.  Marilla's friends help Mike beat the mobsters, Marilla and Mike make up, and the whole film winds up with the main characters assuring us they're all perfectly happy now... or as happy as they can be.


Especially Maxie, the boxer, who's making a come-back, you know.


If Bacall seems a little less than sparkly in this film, I chalk that up to the fact that her real-life husband, Humphrey Bogart, was dying of cancer while they filmed this; he died before it was released.  Bacall more ascerbic and serious than cute and flirty through much of the film, but the chemistry between her and Gregory Peck more than makes up for this.  The two became lifelong friends while filming this movie, and their genuine affection for each other shines.


This is one of those movies where I get a big kick out of spotting familiar faces in small roles.  Dean Jones (That Darn Cat!, The Love Bug, Clear and Present Danger) has an uncredited bit part as a stage hand. 


Edward Platt (The Chief from Get Smart) pops up as a mobster.  Richard Deacon (Mel on The Dick van Dyke Show) has a small role as another newspaperman.  But my favorite, by far, is Chuck Connors, whom I love so much as Lucas McCain on The Rifleman, though you  might know him better as the dad in Old Yeller.  He's playing a heavy here, but he's still great fun.


Is this movie family friendly?  Yes.  Marilla does have a habit of nibbling on Mike's ear, and there's a bit of light innuendo here and there that should fly over the heads of kiddos.  No bad language.  A little mild violence in the form of fistfighting.  Cigarette smoking throughout, some alcohol consumption.  I would let my kids watch this.


This review is my contribution to the Second Lauren Bacall Blogathon hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Follow this link to see the list of all the blogathon entries and celebrate this remarkable, versatile actress!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Summer To-Do List Wrap-Up

Time to weigh in on what I checked off my to-do list this summer.  I had an insanely busy summer, but that means I got a lot done, right?  Really looking forward to a more relaxed fall.  Anyway, here are all the things I checked off between Memorial Day and Labor Day... and the ones I failed at.


~ Publish Dancing and Doughnuts in August  Check!  This took up soooo much of my energy and time, but I did it.  Whew.  You can now buy it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books-a-Million.

~ Read all five INSPY Awards finalists for the mystery/suspense category, which I'm judging.  Check!  Once again, that was a wonderful experience.

~ Read The Harvest Raise by Katie Schuermann Check!  My review is here.

(From my Instagram account.)

~ Read 2 books for my Classics Club list  Check!  I read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie and Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier by W. B. "Bat" Masterson

~ Read 3 other books from my TBR shelves  Check!  I read SEVEN.  It was a good summer.  I read:


(More Bookstagramming)

~ Watch 5 movies from my TBW shelves  Check!  I watched six:

  • Guns of the Timberland (1960)
  • Another Thin Man (1939)
  • Rumble Fish (1983)
  • Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
  • Good Day for a Hanging (1959)
  • Saigon (1948)


~ Go see Solo: A Star Wars Story  Check!  Here's what I thought of it.

~ Go see Ocean's 8  Fail.  Hoping to see it on DVD soon.

~ Go see Incredibles 2  Check!  I really enjoyed it.

~ Go see Ant-Man and the Wasp  Check!  Here are my thoughts on it.

~ Go see Mission: Impossible -- Fallout  Check!  My thoughts are here.



Make these Creamy Lemon Icepops  Check!  They weren't a huge hit, to be honest.  I liked them, but my kids didn't like the bits of lemon peel in them.

~ Make these Chocolate Mint Greek Yogurt Pops  Fail.  It's going to be hot for a few more weeks, so maybe I'll still get around to them.

~ Clean up the giant junk pile that has accumulated in my bedroom again  Fail.  AGAIN.

~ Order photos Fail.  Again.  :-(

~ Teach Mad Dog to tie her shoelaces  Semi-fail.  She knows how, but she hates doing it.


~ Visit the Ark Encounter Check!   It was amazing.  We all learned so much there!

~ Go on a hike someplace I've never been before  Check!  We went on several when we were in South Dakota, and I loved them.


That's all, folks!  I'm working on my autumn to-do list and will have that up soon.

Did you check anything off your list of things to do or places to go this summer?

Sunday, September 09, 2018

"Dancing and Doughnuts" Giveaway Winners!


My book tour officially ended yesterday, and so did the giveaways associated with it.  This afternoon, the Rafflecopter widgets have spoken, so I can announce the winners!!!

The winner of the blog tour prize pack, shown above, is...

Betsy Waggoner

Congratulations, Betsy!

I also held a giveaway open only to those who hosted blog tour stops, and the winner for that is...

Annie from The Western Desk

Annie will get to choose either autographed copies of both Cloaked and Dancing and Doughnuts OR a $15 Amazon gift certificate.  Congratulations to you too, Annie!

Everyone else, I'm sorry you didn't win :-(  I guess you'll just have to buy your own copy, or convince your library to get it, or put it on your Christmas list.  Right?  Right!

Friday, September 07, 2018

"Gaslight" (1944)

Before I actually discuss this movie, let's all take a moment to appreciate how NICE Joseph Cotten looks in a tuxedo, shall we?




Goodness, he just looks ravishing, doesn't he?  Heavens above.

Look how smug he gets, though -- he KNOWS he's a walking, talking ice cream sundae.


And this is the face he makes when he reads the bit where I just called him an ice cream sundae.


Yes, well, time to discuss the movie.  Thank you for letting me get that out of my system.



Gaslight is a beautiful, terrifying study in the power of suggestion over an impressionable mind.  It's also a stark warning against marrying someone you barely know.  And it's a fascinating look at emotional abuse as well.

And yet, it's thoroughly enjoyable.  In fact, it's one of the movies that made me a firm Joseph Cotten fan!


His cute hat didn't hurt any ;-)


Right, I'm supposed to be reviewing the movie.  Just so you know, I WILL SPOIL THINGS.  I will mark where the major spoilage about the ending begins.


It all begins when Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) leaves London following her aunt's mysterious death.  Paula is an orphan, and she's been raised by her aunt, Alice Alquist, a famous opera singer.  Ingrid Bergman is positively luminous in this film -- they light her in soft, glowing tones throughout that emphasize her innocence and sweetness.


We next catch up with Paula in Italy, where she's been taking voice lessons with her aunt's old teacher.  Paula's singing has suffered lately, and she confesses she's in love.  That makes her too happy to sing tragic opera songs.


Who is she in love with?  Her music teacher's new accompanist, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer).  Though they've only known each other two weeks, Anton convinces Paula to run away and marry him.  Paula is naive, innocent, sweet, and assumes everyone is as guileless as she is.  She's rapturously infatuated with this older man and sees no reason at all why she shouldn't marry him.


But she wants to take a few days to think about it, and takes a train to visit the coast alone.  On the train, she meets a chatty old Englishwoman named Miss Thwaites (Dame May Whitty) who is obsessed with murder mysteries.  She lives just down the way from the house in London where Paula grew up, though she doesn't recognize Paula, which is a little weird, since we later learn that Paula looks EXACTLY like her aunt.  But maybe Miss Thwaites never saw the famous opera singer and only knows about her because she was murdered.  Anyway, Paula doesn't want to discuss the murder, though she doesn't disclose her relationship to the victim.


Anton meets Paula, intruding on her week alone with no invitation.  And he does this in the creepiest way possible, reaching out from behind and grabbing her arm.


Paula freaks out a little bit, and who wouldn't?


But she's pleased to see him, once she gets over the surprise of his being there.  They promptly get married.


On their honeymoon, Anton tells Paula that he's always longed to live in London.  In a nice town house on a private street, though of course they're much too poor to live anywhere so nice.  But he'd be happy in a small London flat as long as he has Paula with him.


Paula confesses she owns a nice town house in London, inherited from her aunt.  Anton is surprised.  Well, Paula believes he's surprised, but the audience can tell he's obviously faking.  In fact, the only downside to this movie is how Paula's naivete stretches one's credulity throughout the first half of the film.  She simply believes every single thing Anton ever says.  But because she's luminous and sweet, you just can't dislike her for being so gullible.  I can't, anyway.


Off to London they go, and of course, who is hanging around their house but nosy Miss Thwaites.  Woman needs a nicer hobby than haunting murder scenes.  She's positively in a tizzy over findign out this place is going to be lived in again.  She's waited years and years to get a glimpse inside.


And when she finds out she's actually met the person who lives there?  I thought she'd float right off the ground.


Look at how he almost pushes her inside the creepy, dark interior.  If this shot isn't a perfect visual demonstration of what's going to happen in this movie, I don't know what is.


Paula loves being around some of her aunt's things again, but the furniture in the sitting room disturbs her.


They bring back vivid memories of coming down the stairs as a little girl and finding her aunt dead, strangled in front of her portrait.


Speaking of that portrait, let's take a closer look at it.  Because her aunt obviously looks exactly like Paula.  I have this theory about that, and why Paula never knew her parents and was raised by her aunt.  My theory (which I haven't looked around to see if anyone else has already come up with) is that Paula is actually Alice Alquist's daughter, the illegitimate love-child of the opera singer and the unnamed royal gentleman who gave Alice all those jewels people still talk about.  They say he used to attend all her performances and watch from seclusion in his box.  Sounds like an obsessed secret lover to me.


Anyway, that's my theory.

Anton lovingly suggests moving everything of her aunt's up to the top floor and boarding it up so Paula will never have to think about or see it again.  Cuz having a boarded-up door at the top of the stairs wouldn't be disturbing or weird.


They've barely finished moving the furniture out before Anton starts messing with Paula's head.  He gives her a broach he says belonged to his mother, then warns her not to wear it because it has a broken clasp.  He tells her she's always losing things and forgetting about it, which she doesn't believe.  Why didn't he fix the clasp before giving her the brooch?  She never wonders that.


And when she loses the broach at the Tower of London while on a tour, she begins to believe he's right, that she does lose things and forget all about it.  Look at this amazing shot -- we see Paula's shadow on the left, Anton staring at it as we see her search frantically through her bag.  The bars from the window behind her imprison her shadow, showing us visually what Anton is beginning to do to her.  He's set next to a suit of armor, equating him with a guard and tormentor, but also possibly suggesting that he is empty inside.


As they leave the Tower, they run into a charming man with an American accent (Joseph Cotten) who's there sightseeing with his niece and nephew.


When he sees Paula, he's transfixed, as if he's seeing a ghost.


As the Antons pass, he lifts his hat, and Paula courteously acknowledges him with a smile and nod.


Off they go to visit the crown jewels.


Paula's still worried about having to confess she lost the brooch.  Anton is mesmerized by the jewels.


Honestly, this whole scene, I had only one thing running through my head as they focused on Anton's face:

(I don't even like Moriarty, but yeah, that's all I could think of.)

When they get home, Paula must confess about the brooch.


Anton is all condescending and tells her a bunch of lies about how she's always making things up and forgetting it, losing things, and so on.


He fires her maid and hires Nancy (Angela Lansbury), who looks down on Paula and flirts with Anton shamelessly.


And here's where the title comes in.  Anton leaves every evening, saying he has to go work on his symphony at the office he's rented elsewhere.  After he leaves, the gas-powered lights in Paula's bedroom and boudoir mysteriously dim even though the maid and the cook swear they haven't turned on more lights elsewhere in the house, which would cause the light in her room to dim.  Nancy never sees the lights dim, it only happens when Paula's alone.  And then soon after the lights dim, she hears noises overhead.  But no one else hears them.


Paula begins to believe she's going mad.  She gets to the point where she's afraid to even leave the house for fear that she might lose her way, or that her husband might get angry that she went somewhere.  Nancy feeds on this insecurity, always asking snide things about "Will the master like it if you do this," or "What should I tell the master if he asks where you've gone."


Meanwhile, that nice-looking man with the American accent (that is never explained, he just lives in London and works in London and is an American, and I'm cool with that, so you can be cool with that too, okay?) finds out where the woman he saw lives.  He met her aunt, Alice Alquist, years ago, and she was very kind to him, so he thinks he'd like to tell the niece about meeting her aunt.  The day he goes there to call on her, he sees Paula attempt to leave the house and then flee back inside.  Naturally, he thinks this is really weird.  Also naturally, Miss Thwaite is hanging around the garden nearby, ostensibly feeding birds, but actually stalking the house.  She's more than happy to tell this nice young man all about the weird behavior of Mr. and Mrs. Anton.


It turns out that this nice man has a name: Brian Cameron.  And he has a job: he's a detective with Scotland Yard.  Yay!  He wants to re-open the Alice Alquist murder case, which was never solved.  His superiors tell him not to waste his time.


Yeah, whatever, he's totally going to do some investigating.


Paula becomes a prisoner in her own home.  Look at how they frame this, with layers of bars between her and the audience.  The curtains, the window frames, the iron railing outside -- all keeping her in.


They repeatedly have shown her against or behind bars of some sort, like I mentioned in the Tower of London. Even at the very beginning, when she ran into Anton's arms to meet him secretly after her music lesson, they hide behind this decorative fence:


And when they looked at the Crown Jewels, bars again:


Anyway, Anton continues leaving the house at night.


Poor Paula keeps hearing strange noises above her room.


The gaslight continues to dim every evening, and she slowly succumbs to the belief that she is going mad.


I love this shot, as if the lamp in her room is about to attack her.


Paula decides to make one last attempt at living a normal life. She gets an invitation to a musical evening thrown by a friend of her aunt's who was very kind to Paula when she was young.  She decides to attend, whether or not Anton will go with her.


Just for a few minutes, we see her bright, determined, strong.  Not shrinking or afraid, but making her own decisions.


Unbeknownst to Paula, Brian Cameron is responsible for getting her that invitation.  He's convinced something bad is going on in her house, but he can't get inside to investigate, so he draws her out instead.  Then he gets a seat where he can watch her and her husband.


He is quite suspicious of what he sees.


Anton turns around and sees Brian watching them.  He remembers Brian from that day at the Tower.  Now he's suspicious.  And he has something new to mess with Paula's head about.


In the middle of the performance, he convinces Paula she's stolen his watch.


Paula breaks down entirely.


Brian is adorably alarmed.


Anton takes Paula home immediately.  Then he accuses her of knowing Brian and concealing their friendship -- or is it a love affair?


Finally, he tells Paula that she's going mad, and that her mother went mad and died in an asylum.


Paula believes him.


Brian has a policeman friend of his patrolling the beat outside the Antons' house, to keep an eye on thing.  They compare notes and do some sleuthing.


Anton leaves as usual, to go "work," and Paula has a breakdown.  She leans so far over the stairs, calling for help, that it looks like she's going to fall.


If you don't want the ending SPOILED, you should skip to the bottom of this post now, okay?

Brian charms his way into the house a day or two later.


Paula hides behind a bannister, imprisoning herself behind bars this time because she's afraid she's going mad.


Brian sees her, convinces her to let him talk to her.  He tells her that he met her aunt when he was a little boy, and she gave him a present.


He shows Paula the gift, and she believes him.  Light and hope come back into her face as she has an actual conversation with someone besides her husband and their servants for the first time since arriving in London.


She even smiles.


But then she breaks down, weeping.  She's terrified of everything, especially her own mind.


Brian gently gets her to confess her fears, and reassures her that he doesn't think she's mad.


He looks up the stairs at that ominously boarded-off door.


And he finds her proof of things that show her she's not imagining things.


But Brian leaves, and when Anton returns, he convinces Paula that she imagined that a man came to their house, that she's truly mad.


Paula believes him.  Again.


Just as she's collapsing under the weight of her "madness," Brian returns.  And this is where the movie ratchets up from fascinating to AWESOME.  But if you haven't stopped reading yet, and you reeeeeeeeally don't want the ending SPOILED, quit reading now.


There's a big fight and a chase and some other excitement that culminates with the solution to why the gaslight dims and why she hears noise in the closed-off room above her bedroom.  And Brian arrests Anton and ties him up.  But Paula wants to speak to him alone, and Brian lets her.


She locks herself in with her tormentor, again willingly imprisoning herself.


But she's not afraid of Anton anymore.  She no longer believes his lies.  In fact, she has learned that they're not even legally married.  He has no power over her anymore, though he doesn't realize that yet.


She does a bit of Lady Macbeth with a knife, and messes with Anton's head like he has messed with hers, pretending she's actually mad.  And while Ingrid Bergman has had little to do for most of the movie but look beautiful and tragic and frightened, she bursts forth here in blazing glory and fury, a woman released and triumphant.


It all ends with Anton getting hauled away for her aunt's murder while Brian asks if he can come talk to Paula sometimes, to help her work through her trauma.


And nosy Miss Thwaite gets the last word, which made Cowboy and I bust up laughing and was the most perfect ending possible.



This has been my entry for the Joseph Cotten Blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, which Maddy and Crystal kindly let me join at the last minute.  Thank you both!


I see Joseph Cotten STILL hasn't gotten over being called a walking, talking ice cream sundae, though.


I'm sorry, Joseph.  It's just TRUE!  I could eat you up with a spoon in that outfit.