Sunday, January 28, 2024

My Ten Favorite Movies About Writers

My being a writer probably explains my fondness for movies about writers.  Today, I'm sharing the list of my ten favorite movies about or involving writers -- some authors of fiction, some screenwriters, some columnists or newspaper reporters, but all writers!

1. Laura (1944)  While solving the murder of beautiful Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) falls in love with her memory, mainly thanks to the worshipful reminiscences of Laura's mentor, venomous columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb).

2. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)  Author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) struggles to let go of her specific vision for her book Mary Poppins as Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) works to make it into a movie.  My favorite description of what writers do ("We restore order.  We instill hope, again and again.") comes from this movie.

3. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) needs money. And he needs his career to stop fizzling. And he needs these grumpy characters in his head (especially Scrooge, played by Christopher Plummer) to cooperate. And he needs people to stop pestering him so he can just write his next book. A completely charming, relatable look at the writing process!

4. The Gazebo (1959) A playwright (Glenn Ford) gets blackmailed over some scandalous old photos of his actress wife (Debbie Reynolds) and decides to kill the blackmailer rather than keep paying him. Which leads to very dark comedy that has me in absolute stitches, though my husband didn't find it nearly so funny because he said that Glenn Ford was too good at portraying fear and worry, and so my husband just kept feeling afraid and worried for him. YMMV.

5. Romancing the Stone (1984) Bestselling romance novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) sets out to rescue her kidnapped sister from the South American drug lords who kidnapped her.  A disillusioned mercenary (Michael Douglas) reluctantly helps her out in exchange for a treasure map Joan's sister sent to her before she was kidnapped.  Romance and adventure and some pretty funny dialog ensue.

6. Moulin Rouge! (2001) An aspiring novelist (Ewan MacGregor) falls in love with a consumptive courtesan (Nicole Kidman) and courts her with the help of Toulouse-Latrec (John Leguizamo) in 1890s Paris, while singing and dancing to modern 20th-century music because director Baz Luhrmann can make that work.

7. Paris When it Sizzles (1964) A screenwriter (William Holden) tries to cure his writer's block and write his next smash hit with the help of a typist (Audrey Hepburn) with quirky and funny results. I feel like Alex and Emma (2003) is basically a remake of this movie, though I suppose they might both just be inspired by the true story of Fyodor Dostoyevsky writing a book under a tight deadline with the help of a stenographer that he fell in love with and subsequently married.

8. Miss Potter (2006) Beatrix Potter (Renee Zellweger) falls in love, writes stories, paints cute pictures, publishes books, and refuses to let anyone stop her from doing any of those things. It's a sweet, fun mix of cuteness and determination.

9. Roman Holiday (1953) Bored and lonely Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) runs off alone in Rome to have a taste of what life is like for ordinary people.  American newspaperman Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) takes her under his wing before anything bad can happen to her, and he thinks he's got the scoop of a lifetime once he realizes who he's rescued. 

10. Knives Out (2019) A wealthy mystery author (Christopher Plummer) dies, and everyone in his large and weird family (Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, et. al.) suspects everyone else of having killed him. Only an enigmatic private detective (Daniel Craig) has any inkling of the truth for a long time. 

Are there any movies about your particular profession?  Or, are there any jobs you really love to watch movies about?

This has been my second entry for the On the Job Blogathon hosted by myself and Quiggy at the Midnight Drive-In this weekend!

Saturday, January 27, 2024

The On the Job Blogathon is Here!

Join us all weekend long as we celebrate the daily grind, the nine-to-five, the salt mines... people's jobs, in other words!  Drop the link to your post in a comment here or on Quiggy's post at The Midnite Drive-In, and then check out the fun contributions everyone is sharing.


Realweegiemidget Reviews

The Midnite Drive-In

Hamlette's Soliloquy

Silver Screenings

Crítica Retrô

Hamlette's Soliloquy

Taking Up Room

Maidens of Green Gables

Maidens of Green Gables

"Support Your Local Sheriff" (1969)

I remember the first time my family rented Support Your Local Sheriff (1969).  It would have been sometime in 1993, I'm pretty sure.  When we moved to North Carolina in 1992, we discovered that a local video store had an amazing selection of old movies, including a huge number of westerns.  Every weekend, we would rent an old movie to watch together as a family -- and I was in charge of picking which one to watch each week.  We started by working our way through their westerns; Dad would say, "Get a western we haven't seen yet!" when Mom took us to town, and Mom didn't like westerns much, so when we got to the video store, she would tell me to pick a movie.  (Don't feel too badly for her -- we watched things she liked other times during the week, just not on the one night when Dad took a break to watch something with us.)  When I ran out of John Wayne movies, I continued on through James Stewart westerns, then Glenn Ford, then random ones starring people I didn't know yet.  (Eventually, we progressed to dramas, war movies, comedies, and so on.  But it took a long time to exhaust their selection of westerns.)

I always passed over Support Your Local Sheriff.  The cover's tagline said that it was all about "Bad men... Bad ladies... Bad horses..." and I thought it looked much too racy for our family!  So, week after week, I avoided getting it.  But then, one week, I didn't go along to the video store -- I can't actually remember why.  I probably had a cold.  My mom came back with this movie because it was the only western there she knew for sure we hadn't gotten yet.

Oh, my trepidation was extreme when we sat down to watch this movie!  It was going to be a dud, I just knew it.  It was going to be too skanky, and my dad was going to turn it off right about the time I actually found a character to like, and I was going to be disappointed, and everyone was going to be crabby and pretend not to be, and our weekly movie night was going to be ruined!

Except, it wasn't.  I was completely and entirely wrong.  (Well, there IS a little innuendo about some "working girls," but it is very mild.)  We laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed over this movie.  It immediately became a dear family favorite, and we all quote it to each other routinely still, thirty years later.

Support Your Local Sheriff opens with a funeral just outside a gold rush camp.  A handful of folks, including Olly Perkins (Harry Morgan) and his daughter Prudy (Joan Hackett), gather to consign the mortal remains of a fellow gold seeker to the earth.  

Halfway through the burial, Prudy finds gold.  In the grave.  And thereby becomes the richest little gal in the territory.  And thereby also lets the audience know exactly what sort of a movie this will be: a mildly irreverent, yet loving spoof of the western genre.

Cue a flood of goldseekers, including a handsome man named Jason McCullough, who never makes any secret of the fact that, basically, he's on his way to Australia.  He just stopped by to dig up some gold to finance his trip.  Trouble is, he arrives in the middle of a big gold strike, with prices skyrocketing left and right.  (When the price of a meal at one beanery goes from $3 to $8 before his eyes, a man elbows Jason and says, "That's what they call inflation.  Sometimes it catches you between mouthfuls."  I've been saying that a lot lately.)

Jason decides to find himself an actual job, just so he can afford to eat and sleep while he does some prospecting on the side.  It so happens that the town is in desperate need of a sheriff.  Not only do they have lawless, drunken miners shooting up the town day and night, but there's a mean, lowdown, ornery family by the name of Danby that forces everyone to pay a steep toll just to use the only road in and out of the town.  The town councilmen, headed up by Olly Perkins, give Jason the job after he astonishes them with his sharpshooting and quick-draw skills.

Jason sets about cleaning up the boom town.  First, he puts Joe Danby (Bruce Dern) in jail... a jail that doesn't actually have any bars in the windows or doors yet, but that's okay, Jason convinces Joe to stay there anyway.  Second, Jason hires the town drunk, Jake (Jack Elam), as his deputy.  

And then, Jason proceeds to clean up that town in the most unconventional and funny, yet believably effective, ways you can imagine.  He lies to people about whether or not their guns are loaded.  He throws rocks at hired gunfighters instead of getting suckered into gunfights.  He sympathizes with Pa Danby (Walter Brennan) for being so lonely.  He falls in love with Prudy, even though she tends to get into ridiculous scrapes like setting her dress on fire or getting into the most enormous mud fight with total strangers.

Through it all, Jason continues to insist he's going to leave for Australia any minute.  But the audience can tell he has found his perfect niche and won't be quitting his job as sheriff any time soon.

Spoofs can be so tricky to pull off.  I think they really only work when the people making it actually love the genre they are spoofing -- they have to see the value in the tropes that they upend or poke fun at.  I've seen western spoofs that are just making fun of westerns, like Blazing Saddles, that end up being too snide to be funny.  It's hard to poke fun at something without mocking it.  Support Your Local Sheriff manages it handily, and I do believe it's because writer William Bowers, director Burt Kennedy, and stars James Garner, Jack Elam, Harry Morgan, and Walter Brennan had all made lots and lots of westerns before they made this.  They clearly enjoyed making westerns, and that love for the genre shines through, making this a loving laugh-fest, not a disparaging one.  Also, the only spoofs that ever work for me personally are ones that have a good story and compelling characters, and that would work perfectly well as a serious story too, rather than relying on pratfalls and sarcasm to carry them through.  Which this one does, handily.

I can't close this without mentioning that this movie has two connections to my favorite TV show, Combat! (1962-67).  Director Burt Kennedy wrote and directed some of my favorite episodes of that show, and actor Dick Peabody, who plays one of the Danbys in this (above), played Littlejohn on Combat!.  That endears this movie to me just a little bit extra.

Is this movie family friendly?  Basically, yes.  There's some shooting and killing, though no gore.  There are a few cuss words.  The only thing that makes it not totally family friendly is a little bit of innuendo regarding an establishment called Madam Orr's which clearly is a whorehouse, and there's one scene where a bunch of men in long underwear come running out of it, along with a bunch of girls in bloomers and chemises, so the subtext of what's been going on there is clear to adults, but not to kids.  There's a little bit of dialog about Madam Orr's girls, too, but it's very veiled and, again, would go over a kid's head.  My kids have watched this movie.

This has been my first contribution to the On the Job Blogathon hosted by myself and Quiggy right here and at The Midnite Drive-in.  Join us all weekend long for more posts about movies involving people's jobs and workplaces!

Monday, January 15, 2024

Announcing We Love Sibling Stories Week

This announcement is about a week later than I had planned to make it, so I hope you haven't been worried that I wasn't going to host some kind of blog party in February!  Fear not -- I have such a fun event planned: We Love Sibling Stories Week!

So many of my favorite movies, books, and shows involve siblings.  The endless variety of sibling dynamics fascinates me, and it always provides such rich fodder for storytelling!  February 19 through 23, please join me in celebrating some of those wonderful stories that revolve around siblings.

Like my previous parties, this is a BYOBP (Bring Your Own Blog Post) event -- you get to contribute your own blog posts that relate to the theme!  Those can be just about anything -- movie or book or TV show reviews, lists of favorites, an in-depth character analysis, or even some kind of fun game or contest.  I will provide a blog tag, a giveaway, and at least one game.  So, those will be ways that you can participate as well, if you can't think of something else to post.

Below is the list of participants!  Duplicates are totally acceptable -- this is a party, not a blogathon.  Leave a comment on this post letting me know what you want to contribute, and I will add you to the roster.  If you don't know what you want to post about, that's fine; I can put you down with TBD for To Be Determined.  The only real rule is that all posts should be family friendly.

Don't forget to share a button or two on your blog with links back here so others can find the fun!

The Roster

+ Hamlette's Soliloquy -- tag, giveaway, and game
+ The Edge of the Precipice -- review of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
+ Small Home Comforts -- the Melendy books by Elizabeth Enright
+ Realweegiemidget Reviews -- review of Addams Family Values (1993)
+ Meanwhile, in Rivendell... -- the Pevensie siblings of Narnia
+ The Bend in the Road -- sibling relationships in Patricia St. John's stories
+ Fanda Classiclit -- reviews of The Penderwicks on Gardam Street and Cigarette Girl
+ Revealed in Time -- Bernardo and Maria Vasquez from West Side Story 
+ The Midnite Drive-In -- review of Shane (1953)
+ Sixty-Something Trees -- list of favorite literary siblings
+ Starlight & Saucepans -- Henry and Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park by  Jane Austen
+ Movies Meet Their Match -- siblings in the Lemony Snicket stories
+ 18 Cinema Lane -- review of Deep End of the Ocean (1999)
+ The Maidens of Green Gables -- list of favorite onscreen siblings
+ Musings of an Introvert -- the Hardy Boys
+ YOU!

Friday, January 05, 2024

Quiet Gallantry: General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

I was in my early teens when they released the movie Gettysburg (1993). My family rented it as soon as it hit the local video store. We settled down for a deeply moving, relatively accurate depiction of the battle at Gettysburg that turned the tide of the American Civil War in favor of the Union. 

The film more than exceeded my family’s the expectations and mine in particular. It introduced me to a historical figure who became a personal hero: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Sympathetically portrayed by Jeff Daniels, he stole my imagination. I eagerly looked him up in my history books later to learn more about him. 

Only, my history books didn’t say much about him. Chamberlain was not a big, famous Civil War personality by the 1990s. My history curriculum had a lot to say about Lee, Grant, Stuart, and Jackson, but not a soft-spoken college professor whose courage and gallantry earned him the devotion of the men he led and the respect of his opponents. It wasn’t until I got to college and could take a semester-long course in Civil War history that I could really learn more about him. 

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born in Maine in 1828. Drawn to studying languages, possibly because he stuttered as a child, he overcame many personal obstacles to win a position as a professor of languages and rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. When war arrived, thirty-four-year-old Chamberlain volunteered, leaving behind his career and his wife and children to fight for a cause he believed in wholeheartedly: ending slavery. 

Although he had no military experience, Chamberlain’s education gained him the rank of lieutenant colonel in the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment. Chamberlain had studied military history as a boy, and now he read every book on tactics and maneuvers he could find. He drilled his men endlessly and, though they resented the work, they learned to appreciate their new leader. Chamberlain tried to live as much like the enlisted men as he could, even though his status as an officer entitled him to better food and sleeping quarters. 

In late June 1863, the 20th Maine marched toward a little Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg where they had finally stopped the invading Confederate army. His superiors tasked Chamberlain with dealing with 120 mutineers from a different Maine unit. Unless they wanted to be shot, he must convince them to behave. Chamberlain talked to the men. He realized their unit had mistreated and misunderstood them. He promised that if they would fight as part of his regiment, the Union would not punish them for their previous mutiny. In the film Gettysburg, Chamberlain makes a quiet yet impassioned speech that reminds the soldiers why they’re all in this fight. That speech made me sit up and take notice of him. 

Chamberlain and his men saw some of the most intense fighting of the entire battle. Ordered to hold a small hill called Little Round Top at all costs, they faced overwhelming Confederate forces and only maintained their position through Chamberlain’s knowledge of military strategy and bold leadership. Wave after wave of Confederate troops crashed against their line, only to be repelled. 

Wounded in the foot, his men running desperately low on ammunition, and facing another Confederate advance, Chamberlain made a bold decision. He ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge downhill, straight at their enemies. His men were exhausted, but the Confederates had been fighting uphill the entire time, and they could not withstand the downward rush of Chamberlain and his men. Hundreds of them surrendered. They won the day. 

That evening, a limping Chamberlain and his remaining forces crept up nearby Big Round Top and captured it from a much larger force. The Union’s control of these two hills turned the tide of the battle, which began the slow end of the Confederate supremacy on the battlefield. 

Chamberlain received a wound in the leg and abdomen the next summer. General Grant gave him a deathbed promotion to brigadier general, the only battlefield promotion Grant gave during the entire war. Chamberlain did not die. After a slow recovery, he returned to active duty, only to be wounded again in the battle of Petersburg, where he turned a rout into a victory. They promoted him to major general for his gallant leadership. Now leading a division of 10,000 men, he joined the final pursuit of General Lee and his ragged army. 

Finally, the Union army trapped Lee in Virginia, near Appomattox. Messengers from General Lee met with General Chamberlain under a flag of truce and asked him to inform General Grant that Lee was ready to surrender. After they signed the terms of surrender, Grant chose Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the soft-spoken college professor from Maine, to accept the Confederate army‘s formal surrender. 

Then Chamberlain made a decision he knew would gain him a lot of criticism from people in the north. A decision that cemented him in my heart as a true hero. When the defeated Confederate soldiers reached the Union troops, Chamberlain gave the order for his men to stand at attention and salute their former enemies. Rather than humiliate his foes or glory in their defeat, he insisted on showing them the respect their courage in battle had earned. This action received harsh criticism from many in the North, but it endeared Chamberlain to people in the South and helped make the surrender a peaceful transition. 

After the war, Chamberlain returned to teaching at Bowdoin College until elected governor of Maine. He served four terms, then returned to private life and served as president of Bowdoin College, dying a beloved hero in 1914.

(This post originally appeared in Femnista magazine on May 22, 2019.)

Monday, January 01, 2024

My Ten Favorite New-to-Me Movies of 2023

Here we are at the end of another year, the assigned time for rounding up lists of favorites in various categories.  I'll be posting my favorite reads from 2023 on my book blog on Tuesday, but today, it's time to talk about my top ten favorite movies I saw for the first time over the past year!

1. Fort Dobbs (1958)  A man on the run from the law (Clint Walker) rushes a pioneer woman (Virginia Mayo) and her feisty son (Richard Eyer) to the safety of a cavalry fort during a Comanche uprising.  I watched this movie over and over this year -- it's everything I want in a western.  Heroic and honorable hero and heroine, real danger and real courage, and a found family, with great dialog and intelligent characters.  And a few surprises!  Good, good stuff.

2. Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)  A thief (Chris Pine) tries to rescue his daughter (Chloe Coleman) from a conman (Hugh Grant) with the help of a warrior (Michelle Rodriguez), a wizard (Justice Smith), and a guerilla (Sophia Lillis).  Another exceedingly smart script that delights me.  This movie manages to feel like a bunch of teens playing D&D while also being way smarter and more well-plotted than I ever expected.

3. Blackbeard's Ghost (1968)  A track coach (Dean Jones) accidentally awakens the ghost of the dread pirate Blackbeard (Peter Ustinov), who attempts to help the local track team win over long odds in a bid to find eternal peace.  This is a resoundingly funny and adorable movie.  

4. New in Town (2009)  A high-powered executive (Renee Zellweger) from Miami arrives in Minnesota to shut down a factory, only to fall in love with the workers, the town, and the union representative (Harry Connick, Jr.).  I avoided this movie for over a decade because I thought it was going to make fun of Minnesotans and Midwesterners, but it doesn't.  The love story is actually remarkably charming and natural, too.

5. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)  Indy (Harrison Ford) tries to stop a former Nazi (Mads Mikkelsen) from traveling back in time.  Thought I was going to be disappointed by it, but I wasn't, which makes me really happy.

6. The Boys in the Boat (2023) True story about a rowing team of poor boys from Washington state who defy long odds and go to the Olympics.  Absolutely a feel-good movie in the best possible way.  It was an uplifting, pro-American, pro-hard work movie that felt like it could have been made in the '80s.  Or the '60s.  Really good stuff.

7. Howl's Moving Castle (2004) A young woman (Emily Mortimer) falls afoul of a witch (Lauren Bacall) and gets turned into an old woman (Jean Simmons).  She then encounters a mercurial wizard (Christian Bale) and his fire demon (Billy Crystal) and befriends them, with lots of adventures and a love story ensuing.  I read the book for the first time this year too, and I like them both about equally.

8. Lady in the Lake (1946)  Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) tries to figure out who murdered a woman and dumped her body in a lake.  Yes, it's gimmicky -- the whole thing is shot in "first person" as if the camera is Marlowe -- but the storytelling is strong anyway.  I love the Raymond Chandler book more, but this is one of the Marlowe movies I like well enough to keep a copy for my shelves.

9. Rachel and the Stranger (1948)  A widowed pioneer (William Holden) marries a bondservant (Loretta Young) so she can take care of his house and son without impropriety, but when his old friend (Robert Mitchum) comes for a visit and shows interest in her himself, the pioneer has to decide just how married he really wants to be.  It's basically a pioneer romcom, and I didn't like it much the first time I watched it, but it kept rattling around in my head until I rewatched it, and I liked it much better then.

10. Botany Bay (1952)  Alan Ladd falls afoul of another sadistic sea captain, just like he did in Two Years Before the Mast (1946).  You'd think he'd learn!  This time, the captain (James Mason) actually keelhauls Ladd's character.  Twice.  Um, yes.  Not fun.  At least, not if you're a Ladd fan!  But it all turns out okay.

A few fun stats from my movie-watching in 2023:

Total movies watched: 137

New-to-me movies watched: 26

Movies re-watched: 111

Movies seen in the theater: 11

Movies watched more than twice this year: Fort Dobbs (6), Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (3)

Month with the most movies watched: July (19)

Month with the least movies watched: June (3)

Number of Alan Ladd movies watched: 9