Friday, June 14, 2024

"Guys and Dolls" (1955)

Guys and Dolls
 (1955) is my favorite movie musical.  I love so much about it -- the songs, the cast, the costumes, the scenery, and the storyline!  But above all, I love the dialog.  This musical is based on the short stories of Damon Runyon, particularly his 1933 story "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown."  Runyon wrote a distinctive style of dialog that became known as "Runyonese" that is filled with slang, humorously uses long and flowery words at random, and diligently avoids contractions.  The dialog for the film embraces Runyonese, with spectacularly funny results.

When I saw this movie for the first time, I was fifteen and had no idea what it was about, what Runyonese was like, nothing.  My friend Jesse and I had spent the afternoon painting faces at a Halloween festival, and we stopped to rent a movie on the way back to my place.  We both loved old classic movies, and we thought the colorful VHS cover at the video store looked really fun, so we rented it on a complete whim.

We spent the next two and a half hours laughing and laughing and laughing. We both fell in love with all the songs and the crazy dialog and the costumes -- in fact, I watched the movie all over again the next day with my mom and brother before returning it to the video store.  And Jesse and I would fangirl over it with great glee for months afterward, whenever we happened to get together.

A few years later, I found a collection of Damon Runyon's stories and read them, and was endlessly delighted to discover that Runyonese is just as funny when you read it as when you hear it.

Guys and Dolls revolves around two romantic pairings: Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) and Miss Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), and Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) and Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons).  Nathan and Adelaide have been engaged for fourteen years, but Sky and Sarah have only just met.  

Nathan Detroit needs a thousand dollars to rent a place to hold his famous floating crap game, and he bets Sky Masterson a thousand dollars that Sky cannot take any random woman on a date.  Sky takes the bet, Nathan names Sister Sarah as the woman he should take out, and the bulk of the film is about Sky's attempts to convince Sarah he is a repentant sinner who wants her street mission to save his soul, when really he just wants her to fly to Havana with him so he can win the bet.  Except that, he starts to fall in love with her for real, which complicates everything.

Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons were not trained singers, but they recorded their own songs for this film anyway.  Brando later said that they cobbled his songs together from the multitude of takes they recorded, but Simmons sang well enough she did not need such extreme editing.  Neither of them hold a candle to Sinatra, but they do not need to!  The unpolished, more realistic sound of their songs adds to their charm.  Not only are neither Sky nor Sarah great at singing, neither one has ever been great at this whole falling-in-love thing.  But they do so anyway.  It totally works.

I have read that Sinatra very much wanted to play Sky Masterson and was so angry that the studio cast Marlon Brando instead, who was not really a singer or a dancer (but WAS hot box office right then), that he refused to speak to Brando most of the time.  They spent the bulk of the filming communicating through others.  Their characters definitely come across as rivals who like to one-up each other, so the off-screen antagonism does not hurt the film.

One of my favorite parts of the whole movie is the crap game staged as a ballet set in the sewers.  Which is not a sentence you will run into very often, am I right?  But it works gorgeously, and it involves my favorite song from the film ("Luck be a Lady").  I would link to clips of it here, but it is kind of the climax for the plot, and I do not want to ruin it for anyone here who has decided they want to see the movie for the first time.

I have heard a lot of people saying that Marlon Brando is miscast in this film, and I think that is hogwash.  His Sky Masterson is unfairly attractive, all elegant masculinity and effortless cool.  There is no reason to wonder why Sarah Brown is drawn to him despite her best intentions not to be.  I have always been upset that Brando has never played any other character quite as wonderful, though, admittedly, I have only seen ten of his other films, so perhaps I will stumble on one sometime that I also love him in -- his turn as Mark Antony in the 1953 Julius Caesar is the closest I have found so far.

Random historical tidbit: when Damon Runyon was an up-and-coming New York City reporter, he was mentored by famed western lawman-and-gambler-turned-sportswriter Bat Masterson.  It is widely acknowledged that Runyon named his coolest character, a gambler from the west called Sky Masterson, after his mentor.

Is this movie family friendly?  Basically, yes.  Miss Adelaide is a singer and dancer at a nightclub, and her songs are a little risque both in the lyrics and her costumes (see above).  Not racy enough to stop me from watching this movie recently with my kids, who are currently 12, 14, and 16, but some families may find they wish to fast-forward or skip those scenes (you can skip them without missing any part of the plot).  There are some kisses and some very mild innuendos in the dialog elsewhere.  By today's standards, it is super tame, but for the '50s it was probably almost a little edgy.

You can watch this movie on DVD and Blu-Ray, or stream it on Amazon Prime, YouTube, FreeVee, Tubi, the Roku Channel, and probably other places too -- it is not hard to find.

This has been my contribution to the Seventh Broadway Bound Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room this weekend!  Guys and Dolls was originally a Broadway musical -- according to Wikipedia, it opened on Broadway in 1950, ran for 1200 performances, and won the Tony Award for Best Musical that year!

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Cover Reveal for My Book "A Noble Companion"

Earlier this year, I announced that I will be releasing an Ugly Duckling retelling called A Noble Companion as part of the Cornerstone Series from Beyond the Bookery. I can finally reveal its gorgeous cover!

A Noble Companion releases on November 12, and you can already pre-order the Kindle version on Amazon.

As you can see from the tagline here, this book involves a dragon!  The books in this series are all non-magical fantasy, which means the authors get to include fantasy elements such as creatures (like dragons, centaurs, unicorns, mermaids) or settings, but there will be no magic-users, such as witches or wizards or sorcerers.

Is this a major step out into the unknown for me personally?  In some ways, yes.  I tried writing a fantasy novel in my teens and gave it up because the worldbuilding was driving me crazy.  I've never tried to write anything fantasy-ish again... until now.  

But, being me, my book also has an American West flavor -- I've created a world based on Spanish California in the early 1800s (think of Zorro), but with talking animals and dragons.  

I have an inspiration board for this book on Pinterest -- you can check that out here!

Anyway!  I love my cover, and I'm having a great time writing this book.  If you'd like to see covers for more of the series, we are releasing four at a time every Monday for the whole month of June -- you can find the first eight here in my Instagram feed!

Oh, and if you think A Noble Companion sounds like a fun read, you can mark it as "want to read" here on Goodreads.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Announcing Legends of Western Cinema Week 2023

Hey howdy hey!  For the sixth straight summer, I'm teaming up with Heidi of Along the Brandywine and Olivia of Meanwhile, in Rivendell... to bring you Legends of Western Cinema Week -- a no-holds-barred celebration of western movies and shows!

This year's shindig will be held July 22-26, and we invite you to join us for five days of western film fun.  As usual, the three of us are working on a blog tag for everyone to fill out.  We're also planning some blog games and a giveaway or two.  

The rest of the party's events are up to you!  This event is always BYOBP -- Bring Your Own Blog Post.  Start thinking now about what kinds of posts you want to contribute.  Movie reviews, TV show/episode reviews, top ten posts, random assortments of thoughts about western movies/shows, games, tributes -- as long as it's about westerns onscreen, it's welcome!  

We never set a limit for how many posts you can contribute, or how many people can share posts about a particular subject. The only rules are that posts: 
  •  must be about westerns,
  •  must be appreciative and not derogatory,  and 
  •  must to be new posts (not just linking to old ones)
If you can't think of anything to post, but you want to celebrate westerns with us, you are always welcome to just fill out the blog tag on your own blog!

Olivia has made her best batch of buttons yet, don't you think?  Please help yourself to one (or more) and post it on your blog to spread the word about this event!

There's no official sign-up roster or anything like that.  If you want to tell us how excited you are for the return of LOWCW, or if you have questions, leave a comment!

If you haven't attended one of our LOWCW hootenannies yet, and you're not quite sure you understand how a blog party works (as opposed to a blogathon), here's a link to my wrap-up post for the 2024 event.

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

My New Book "Jane Eyre: A Christian Reader's Guide" is Here!

My very first nonfiction book has released today!  It's also my first audiobook.

Jane Eyre: A Christian Reader's Guide helps readers explore Charlotte Bronte's classic novel.  In it, I provide discussion prompts, historical notes on the book and its author, and a breakdown and analysis of each chapter. This audiobook is helpful for teaching literature or personal study.  It would be great for homeschoolers and literature classes, but also for book clubs.  It works equally well whether you're hoping to understand this classic better yourself or looking for a resource to help you teach it to others.

You can buy this book from Amazon Audible here, from Barnes and Noble Audiobooks here, or straight from publisher One Audiobooks here.  You can also find it on Goodreads.

This book is part of a new series of literature guides that One Audiobooks is producing.  Their aim is to help modern readers understand and appreciate classic books from a Christian perspective.  Mine is the first guide for a more adult book, and probably works better for teens and adults, but the others would be great for all ages.

Currently, these guides are only available as audiobooks, but there is a possibility that the publisher might release them as ebooks as well.  If that interests you, please let the publisher know!

Friday, May 24, 2024

"Come September" (1961)

This is basically your standard cute '60s romcom.  But it has Bobby Darin in it, which adds a little extra flair :-)

Wealthy American playboy-businessman Robert Talbot (Rock Hudson) is having an unexpectedly bad time of it.  He decided to return to his vacation home, an Italian villa, in the summertime instead of in September, as is his habit.  Once there, he discovers that his trusted majordomo Maurice (Walter Slezak) does not keep the villa in impeccable condition during the rest of the year when Robert is in America -- he turns it into a hotel!  

In fact, Robert's home is currently inhabited by a group of American teenage girls, chaperoned by a formidable matron named Margaret (Brenda de Banzie).  Margaret is determined to keep her charges untouched by man or beast while she shepherds them about Italy.  But camped outside the hotel is a group of the most terrible beasts of all: teenage boys.

To make matters worse, Robert's Italian girlfriend Lisa Fellini (Gina Lollobrigida) has gotten tired of being his main squeeze for only part of the year.  Since Robert has shown no intention of marrying her, she's gotten herself engaged to another man.  Of course, Robert is sure he can win her back, if he can just get her alone at his villa for a while.

Robert finds himself feeling protective of these seemingly innocent American girls, and does his best to keep those beastly boys away from them.  But all his pseudo-fatherly advice does little to convince the girls to keep a clear head around the boys -- and it does far less than one drunken pass at Sandy (Sandra Dee) made by Tony (Bobby Darin).  The girls realize the guys might not have the most honorable intentions, right about the same time that the boys realize they're going to have to learn to be deserving of those nice girls.

Everything turns out fine in the end, of course.  You can rely on '60s romcoms to deliver oddball misunderstandings and kooky situations galore, but always always always with a happy ending.  

Come September tends to be considered Bobby Darin's screen debut.  Although he had appeared in a couple of small television roles and played himself in Pepe (1960), this was the first time he played an actual role on the big screen.  His character, Tony, is kind of a stinker for most of the film, pestering Robert, always trying to get Sandy alone, and acting as ringleader for the pack of boys.  But he plays Tony as having a lot of intelligence that he's hiding under his mischievous grin, and you get the feeling that, once he decides being serious is worth it, he's going to be just as dedicated to that as he has been to hijinks.

Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee fell in love while shooting this movie and were married soon after.  Their off-screen romance boosted the film's popularity when it was released.  

Of course, this is Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida's movie, not Bobby and Sandy's -- and they make a fantastic pair!  I always think Rock Hudson is at his best when he is playing "exasperated but trying really hard to be gentlemanly about something," and that's basically his character's mood for this entire film, so I get a big kick out of it.

Come September was actually shot in Italy; most of the location shots were done in Portofino.  I think that really helps to lend the film an idyllic, Old World grace that studio shots and matte paintings wouldn't have provided so well.

Is this movie family friendly?  If your kids aren't old enough to pick up on the string of double-entendres in Bobby Darin's song "Multiplication," and aren't worldly wise enough to understand why Lisa is trying to sneak into Robert's room at night, sure.  No cussing, and no actual smut, though Lollobrigida does wear some low-cut dresses and we see her in lingerie.

This review is my contribution to the Screen Debuts and Last Hurrahs blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association.  My first time participating in an event as an official CMBA member!  

Friday, May 17, 2024

"Ophelia" (2018)

It's always fun to see a new take on a favorite old story.  I have read Ophelia by Lisa Klein (read my review here) twice, and I very much enjoy the way Klein reimagines Hamlet from Ophelia's perspective while also putting a few spins on the story that draw from other Shakespeare plays.

When Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) is still fairly young, Queen Gertrude (Naoimi Watts) takes her in and helps her learn to be a lady-in-waiting.  Ophelia's father Polonius (Dominic Mafham) is pleased by this because he hopes it will help advance his career, as he is a new advisor to King Hamlet (Nathaniel Parker).

Until he goes away to further his education in Paris, Ophelia's brother Laertes (Tom Felton) helps her learn to read and learn things from the books kept locked in the library, which girls aren't supposed to enter.  The other ladies-in-waiting are not kind to Ophelia because she is a commoner, but the fact that she can read endears her to Queen Gertrude, who has Ophelia read aloud to her when she is bored.

Eventually, Prince Hamlet (George MacKay) returns from his own studies abroad with his friend Horatio (Devon Terrell).  Ophelia and Hamlet flirt and hesitantly begin to fall in love, but Hamlet and Horatio must return to their studies in Wittenberg, and Ophelia must stay at Elsinore.

Queen Gertrude allows herself to become distracted by her husband's brother, Claudius (Clive Owen).  Distracted from what?  Loneliness, fear of aging, and worry that her husband is more interested in politics than in her, basically.  When King Hamlet dies mysteriously and suddenly, Prince Hamlet and Horatio return for his funeral, but arrive only in time to witness the queen's remarriage.  She weds Claudius, who is then declared King of Denmark, an elected role, but one that would probably have gone to the prince if his uncle had not stepped up to the throne before Hamlet could return.  

Hamlet tries to figure out the truth behind his father's death and Ophelia tries to help Gertrude, who may be in danger from her new husband.  Gertrude has sent Ophelia several times to visit a healer and potions maker (also Naomi Watts) who lives in the woods outside the castle.  Ophelia tries to bolster the queen with her own courage and optimism, but Gertrude relies more and more on tinctures and potions from the woman in the woods.

SPOILER ALERT for the next paragraph because this story DEVIATES from Shakespeare's version, so the following things may be surprises.

Ophelia and Hamlet get married in secret.  Ophelia tries to convince Hamlet to run off and start a new life with her, but he becomes increasingly determined to find out if his uncle killed his father.  In the end, Ophelia chooses to leave without him, with Horatio's help, and she is able to escape the madness in Elsinore.


This is a very, very pretty movie. The costumes are lavish and lovely, especially the dresses worn by Gertrude and her ladies-in-waiting.

I like that the ladies tend to wear the same clothing over and over, with different accessories or slight alterations.  That seems very realistic, much more so than everyone having a different outfit for every scene.

Elsinore is stately inside and out.

Some of the staging and cinematography is particularly striking.  Here is King Hamlet, being prepared for burial.  If you click on the image, you can see it larger, and you'll notice how many skulls are in this shot.  It's a small detail, but really cool.  

All the candles remind me so much of the underground, candlelit graveyard from another Hamlet retelling, The Wild and the Dirty (Johnny Hamlet) (1968).

The opening shot of the film is particularly cool because it deliberately recreates the famous painting Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais.

Anyway, time to talk a bit about the characters and how they are portrayed!

Daisy Ridley's Ophelia refers to herself as being headstrong and willful, but I mostly get the sense that she simply cares very deeply about the people around her.  She doesn't let other people make up her mind for her, but she does take their opinions into consideration.  She's a sweet and loving daughter and sister, and tries to be a loyal servant to the queen, but she is mostly very lonely.  The other ladies-in-waiting pick on her and tease her and shun her, and so of course she is warmed and charmed by Hamlet paying attention to her.

George MacKay's Hamlet is at times stubborn, at times clueless, and at times very tender and affectionate.  Which is how I like my Hamlets.  He's the kind of mess we all have been in our late teens and early twenties, only he's been plopped into a horrific situation and has no good guidance for how to react to it.  I like how playful this Hamlet can be, and how much he does appear to care about Ophelia.

However, the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia leaves me feeling something is lacking.  In the book, there is a lot of time spent developing their friendship, affection, and love.  In the movie, they dance once and have a couple of conversations and arguments, and then they're pledging eternal love all of a sudden.  I wish the filmmakers had spent another ten minutes on showing their relationship deepening, or even given us a five-minute montage of them enjoying hanging out together and getting to know each other.  That's my one real quibble about this film -- the book is much better in that regard.

Tom Felton's Laertes is studious and earnest.  I love that he teaches Ophelia to read and sneaks her into the library.  He definitely has some hotheaded tendencies, which works well for the ending.  He's not a favorite Laertes for me, but I like him.

Devon Terrell's Horatio deserves more screen time.  He's much more important in the book, and becomes an ally for Ophelia.  Here, he mostly hangs out on the sidelines.  What time he gets is very nice, though -- he's a bit playful, has big dreams for the future, and is a good friend to Hamlet.

Naomi Watts's Gertrude is a mess, but she's meant to be -- she's like a cautionary tale of what can happen to a woman if she believes her value as a person is tied to her looks and how much other people like her.  

Clive Owens's Claudius is scary.  I usually find Owens quite handsome, but he's harsh and unpleasant for most of this film.  He's definitely doing the hulking villain thing to the utmost.

Dominic Mafham's Polonius is the nicest Polonius I have ever seen.  He has a kindly relationship with both Ophelia and Laertes, though he's a bit distant -- but they have a lovely family dynamic, obviously caring about one another even if they don't always know how to show it.  Ophelia gives him a sweet little kiss on the cheek at one point, and he smiles so sweetly.  Though he does think that Ophelia's being a lady-in-waiting and then attracting the prince's attention are both things that can advance his career, this Polonius does not use his daughter as a pawn the way some do.

One random tiny thing I love about this movie: Nathaniel Parker playing King Hamlet.  He played Laertes in the 1990 movie starring Mel Gibson.  He was my first Laertes, and a big part of why I love that character so much.  That makes it extra 'specially awesome to see him here in a different role!  He's an interesting Hamlet too -- warm one moment and distrustful the next.  I'd love to have seen more of him, as I think they could have fleshed him out a bit more.

Also a random side note:  Naomi Watts is married to Liev Schreiber in real life, and Liev Schreiber plays my favorite Laertes ever, in the version of Hamlet (2000) starring Ethan Hawke.  This also makes me happy.

Is this movie family friendly?  Um, it's not really appropriate for kids, as there is a short love scene (no nudity, and the couple is married), there's a witch character with some mildly creepy stuff in her home, and there's some poisoning and stabbing and so on.  Fine for older teens, depending on the teen?

I have an ongoing series called Hamlet Comparisons where I like to rate the various characters as portrayed in different adaptations and productions of Hamlet.  Here's how I'd rate these:

Hamlet: A 
Horatio: A- 
Laertes: A- 
Ophelia: A 
Claudius: A- 
Gertrude: A- 
Polonius: A-
Overall Production: A

This has been my contribution to the It's in the Name of the Title Blogathon hosted this week by Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews and Rebecca from Taking Up Room.