#StayAtHome entertainment

All these weeks of staying at home and you’d think it would be boring, but it’s not really, not for me. Yes, I do miss the freedom of coming and going anywhere I please, seeing my family and friends for real, going out to cinemas and restaurants, travelling and experiencing new things. However, for all that I miss, I also have things I am grateful for: I’m with my wonderful husband and kids (seriously, I could never get sick of having them around), I still have work that pays me a regular salary, a roof over my head, a garden I can sit in when the sun shines, I have online and phone contacts with people outside and, as a bit of an introvert, I am also very well able to entertain myself.

I take walks with my husband but sometimes also by myself, with music playing in my headphones as I enjoy the scenery. The other day I took a lovely walk in a little green area about a 7 minute walk away from my house. I was listening to the Yentl soundtrack that I hadn’t listened to in a while. Papa is always an emotional song for me, connected in so many meaningful ways to my own papa…

Anyway, listening to beautiful, relaxing music like that while walking can really lift your spirits, especially when the views are so pretty with nature blooming now in the spring…

Not that many people walk there at the end of the afternoon/beginning of the evening when I tend to take my walks, so it’s a good keeping-your-distance route. I love to see the trees starting to bloom and flowers popping up.

And there is more to entertain me! There are re-reruns on Dutch TV of my absolute favourite show of the end 1980’s / beginning 1990’s, the Australian TV series The Flying Doctors. We’re in the doctor Geoff and nurse Kate heydays right now, so even though I have seen all the episodes and I own them, I also do tune in now and again to see how they’re getting on and where they are in the story. We’re getting close to the big Geoff and Kate rift in season 4 when Geoff’s brother comes to town; that was one of the most exciting times of the whole series, I love seeing those episodes.

There were 9 seasons of that show, the last two seasons or so weren’t as fun, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a special on how they’re doing now, 30 years on.

On Friday evening I enjoyed a broadcast of  a 2011 The Phantom of the Opera 25th anniversary performance on YouTube. By the time I post this, it will almost be going offline, but oh my goodness it was good (and worth a donation)! I didn’t mean to watch the whole thing but I got stuck anyway. Ramin Karimloo plays the Phantom with such feeling and intensity, I became a fan instantly. And Sierra Boggess as Christine is just amazing. I had never heard of them before and they have great chemistry together. Here a clip of them perfoming at the Brit Awards in 2012…

I also loved the celebration bit after the musical ended and, with just small gestures, again Ramin Karimloo made a great impression on me.

And then last night there was another #stayathome highlight for me. For the first time ever I did a three person video chat with two very good friends of mine in the US. We always chat a lot in writing, have done so for 18 years, but until this corona crisis when seemingly everyone has taken to video chatting, we had never thought to do a video chat amongst ourselves before. We’re usually busy and rarely online at the same time but with all of us staying at home now, we figured we should be able to arrange something. So, last night at 9 pm my time and 3 pm their time we finally got together for a video chat and ‘hung out’ for close to two hours, also seeing husbands and a few kids. It was wonderful! The internet and social media really can be so amazing.

Besides all this I have also been going down a Jean Simmons rabbit hole in recent weeks. I had been going through my Richard Chamberlain collection a little while back and saw bits and pieces of The Thorn Birds again where Jean Simmons plays Meggie’s mother, Fee. She is so good in that role!

It made me think of The Big Country with Gregory Peck again, in which she co-stars, and I re-watched that (yup, it’s good movie!). I have always loved her in the role of school teacher Julie Maragon, I always wished for her role to have been bigger.

Looking at her filmography I know I have seen her in a lot of things already over the years, most of the them ages ago, and I have always liked her. Besides the roles I just mentioned I remember her best in Great Expectations from 1946, Black Narcissus from 1947 (excellent movie!), even though those were small roles…

… and of course in Spartacus from 1960. I remember enjoying the film and story but I mostly remember loving Simmons as Varinia. I remember the tension in the Laurence Olivier scenes and the love in the Kirk Douglas scenes.

I have also seen The Robe (1953) with Richard Burton, Young Bess (1953) with her then-husband Stewart Granger and Désiree (1954) with Marlon Brando, all historical costume dramas. I confess to remembering little about them, although Young Bess and Désiree stick in my mind as movies I did like at the time.

I came across a movie called Until They Sail and, when I saw the trailer, remembered I had seen that too. I watched that one again and boy, I really liked it! It’s about four sisters in New Zealand during the Second World War and the relationships they have with Americans stationed there. I loved the understated, almost philosophical scenes between Jean Simmons and Paul Newman…

… and the conclusion between them is just everything. It’s not only about them, though, it’s about four sisters who are very different at handling the same situation. I really liked it, it’s going onto my fave Jean Simmons movies list.

Last night, after that two hour video chat (I’m a night owl), I watched Guys and Dolls from 1955 that Simmons also did with Marlon Brando. I’d never seen that before, apart from bits and pieces. Both are only OK singers but oh my, they have such great chemistry! I loved them together in this movie, like in this clip.

The movie was alright (it apparently also has Frank Sinatra) but really shone and came to life when those two appeared together on screen. It was fun!

Yeah, this Jean Simmons rabbit hole is going deep. I want to re-watch Désiree now to see if the chemistry with Brando was also there in that, and I want to see Young Bess and Spartcaus again. I also need to see Angel Face, a film noir movie with Robert Mitchum in which I think she plays a psychopath; it is said to be one of her absolute best roles.

jean simmon sangel face mitchum

Oh, and she did one with Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr called The Grass is Greener which I also saw many years ago, need to look into that one again as well.

I’m sure there will be more as I dig on.  I’m loving my journey of Jean Simmons re-discovery.

I feel it is so important to be social and stay at home and yes, I do feel restricted during this corona crisis but I am also lucky that I have enough ways to entertain myself. Thank goodness for the world at our feet on the internet and for a world that is beautiful outside.

James Stewart rediscovered

For some reason, and I wasn’t sure how until I started digging through my memory of the past few weeks, I’ve started watching Jimmy Stewart movies (when not distracted by Richard Armitage at a film festival in Newcastle and all the subsequent reports and pictures streaming in). Now, I’ve always known James Stewart, have always really liked him, he’s one of the favourite actors of my younger brother but he never made it to the top of my “I love him/her so much!” actors list. I think that has now changed!

Digging through my memory, I think it was the fault of falling into an old 1943 movie about six or so weeks ago with Jean Arthur called The More the Merrier (if you want to see a very sexy love scene from the early 1940s that also makes you smile, check out this scene from that film!). I happened upon this scene on YouTube, then found the whole movie and watched it and really enjoyed it! Charles Coburn was truly excellent and funny in it (he won an Oscar for that role; luckily I didn’t find out till after I had seen and enjoyed the movie that Coburn had been a white supremacist!) but I was also very impressed with Jean Arthur! So, I jumped to the only other movie I knew with her, called Mr Smith Goes to Washington, with James Stewart (I now know she also did Shane, still need to re-watch that one). I had once seen Mr Smith many years ago but barely remembered it, so I watched it again and that is when James Stewart blew me away (don’t get me wrong, Jean Arthur is very good in this too!). So, after watching that, I have been binge-watching all of Stewart’s movies! Well, a whole lot of them, in any case.

What I think really hit me with James Stewart this time around is how extremely well he listens and reacts to others! I was pondering that over the past few weeks and then yesterday I was reading an obituary the NY Times had done on him where he is quoted as once having said, “I don’t act, I react”. I don’t quite agree with the “I don’t act” part. I see how the criticism can be that he is often himself in movies but I think he does something way cleverer than that: every character is quite different but somehow he takes every character and he finds a way to also inject them with his own humanity. What I do very much agree with is the “I react” part of that quote. Come to think of it, I think he was one of the best ‘reactors’ I have ever seen! He is an ‘everyman’ and very human in his expressions, that makes him so very relatable.

In his pre-war movies he starred in some dramas (like Mr Smith…), there was his first Western (Destry Rides Again) where he played a pacifist lawman (co-starring with Marlene Dietrich) but mostly the movies were lighter, romantic comedies, with The Shop Around the Corner being my absolute favourite one. That movie I have seen several times and re-watching it confirmed yet again what an adorable movie it is and what great chemistry James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan had (she helped kick-start his career and was also a close friend). In these early movies you can see that James Stewart had great comedic timing and a dry humour, which has served him well throughout his career. It looks like he is never purposely funny and yet he is funny. There is light-heartedness about him that I love, like in the scenes you see in this fan video I saw on YouTube…

To me, his most brilliant comedic performance, again where his character doesn’t mean to be funny but he really is, was a scene from The Philadelphia Story that he did with Cary Grant. The story goes that this scene wasn’t rehearsed, that they just played (and shot it) in one take. James Stewart is drunk and, in the middle of the night, visits Cary Grant’s house. Apparently the part where he starts hiccupping wasn’t scripted at all (neither was Cary Grant’s “Excuse me” response) and you can see that the men are struggling to keep it together, but keep it together they did. James Stewart won an Oscar for his role in this film, and I have a sneaking suspicion that, while he was excellent in the film, him winning the Oscar may have been because of this little scene. Here it is, the very funny “Oh, C.K. Dexter Haaaaaaaven” scene…

But he wasn’t only good at comedy, one of his stand-out dramatic performances was in the first movie he did after leaving the army (he had been a commanding fighter pilot in WWII), the very famous It’s a Wonderful Life. James Stewart’s time in the army did something to him, I think, in that it gave him some more gravitas, like in this heartbreaking scene from It’s a Wonderful Life which is so superbly acted (as is the whole film)… Really, this was a brilliant role for him and such a lovely lovely movie!

He also did the movie Harvey in 1950 after having played the role on Broadway and on the London stage. I’d always heard of the movie and had read about it and knew it was supposed to be legendary (Stewart was nominated for an Oscar for it) but I only actually watched it recently during this binge phase. I think that this role has now gone straight to the top of my fave James Stewart performances ever! If you haven’t seen it, go and watch it. James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, who has a 6 ft 8 invisible white rabbit (but not invisible to him) called Harvey as his best friend, is just absolutely charming and so heartwarming. I swear, it’s one of the most endearing characters I have ever seen and yes, unintentionally funny as well. Apparently it was one of his own favourite characters too. Here, have a look at one of my fave quotes of the film…

After the war James Stewart did a few very good Hitchcock movies (my fave of those is Rear Window with Grace Kelly) and he became famous yet again for his Westerns (he made many!). For almost all the Westerns he did, he rode a horse he had come to love, named Pie, and he wore the same cowboy hat in almost all those movies as well…

I’ve seen a few of those Westerns and there is a quality of tenderness in the man, despite some of the acts of violence the characters played by Stewart display. There’s a vulnerability there in Jimmy Stewart’s eyes that makes me actually enjoy watching these Westerns (not normally a genre I enjoy that much) and in some films where Indians play a role, they are even humanized instead of demonized, like in Broken Arrow (from 1950) where he helps negotiate a peace with Apaches. I think my fave Western of his is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (where he doesn’t ride a horse or wear his hat) and co-stars with John Wayne (whom I really dislike and don’t like much in this movie either). However, I do love James Stewart’s character, who is a man who believes in the power of words over violence and yet finds himself in a situation where he needs to resort to violence.

James Stewart Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceAnother surprise to me was that I hadn’t remembered how good he was at being the romantic lead and how passionate his body language is. Again, his unparalleled reaction skills truly show! And being so tall helps him too. The way he looks at the women he loves on-screen, the way he reacts to them and then the way his tall frame totally envelopes them when he embraces them, holds them oh so tight and kisses them is just absolutely beautiful! In most movies I saw, I found he managed to manufacture great chemistry with his leading ladies. In fact, I just had to make a fan video about James Stewart being in love with his leading ladies!

The first scene I used in my fan video is from It’s a Wonderful Life with the beautiful Donna Reed opposite him. The tension and subtext just jump off the screen and punch you in the gut in this phone scene (that I cut somewhat but you can view in its entirety here, including what happens right before that phone part starts). The reacting, the breathing, the outburst of a man trying to fight his feelings but being overpowered by them – I can’t praise this scene enough! The role of George Bailey, to me, may have been his greatest romantic role ever… Anyway, here’s the video I made.

He did several of his early movies with Margaret Sullavan, someone else made a nice video for that…

After the war his on-screen wife for a few movies was June Allyson, whom he also had great chemistry with…

I also really liked him with Vera Miles in Liberty Valance and another movie called The FBI Story. The film itself is not that great, but Jimmy and Vera really do work very well together. Here, take a look at this scene of them together in that movie…

In reading up on him, I think I would rarely have agreed with him politically. He was famously best friends with Henry Fonda since the early 1930s and despite vehemently disagreeing with each other’s political views, they remained close friends until Fonda’s death in 1982.

Maybe we could learn something from these two men who had such opposing political views and yet were such friends (apparently their hobby was building model airplanes together!). Jimmy Stewart really seems to have been a humanitarian and I always respond well to that. I also love that he was so happily married to his wife Gloria for 45 years until she died in 1994. He became father to her sons of a previous marriage and they had twin girls together.

Apparently his final words before he died at age 89 in 1997 were, “I’m going to be with Gloria now.”

Just as everyone underestimates Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, I think I may have underestimated James Stewart. I always liked him before, but now I can honestly say I love him.

30 Day Movie Challenge – Day 20

Day 20 – Your favourite romantic movie

I could just be lazy and refer to my favourite movie Roman Holiday again. Or I could refer to other romantic movies I have already mentioned during this challenge, but I won’t; I’ll pick a new one and I have two Ingrid Bergman movies I am trying to choose between.

First there’s Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart from 1942. It’s a wonderfully constructed movie about politics and love with a lot of drama, suspense, and yes, even humour. Even the minor characters are excellent in this movie. Apparently many actors were themselves refugees from Europe.

So very many classic scenes in Casablanca! From Dooley Wilson singing As Time Goes By, to depressed Bogart sitting in a darkened bar with a whiskey drowning his heartache, to the “We’ll always have Paris” scenes, the people in the bar singing the Marseillaise and drowning out the German officers singing, the ending with the famous line: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” It has brought so many more classic lines, like “Round up the usual suspects” and “Here’s looking at you kid” and “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world” and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine” and “You played it for her, you can play it for me… If she can stand it, I can. Play it!” Let me just share this scene from Casablanca where the romantic tension is just palpable:

A fun little scene I would also like to share is this one of an elderly Austrian refugee couple who are looking forward to traveling on from Casablanca to America…

I could share so many more! In fact, it’s probably just best to watch the whole thing. 🙂 Apparently right up till the end of filming it was still unclear which man Ingrid Bergman would end up with, so she had to be totally in love with both men at the same time. I’m still not sure whether she made the right choice or not…

The other Ingrid Bergman movie I was thinking of is Notorious from 1946. It’s an Alfred Hitchcock movie with Cary Grant in which Ingrid Bergman plays a woman who has to spy on a group of ex-Nazis in South America, Cary Grant is her handler and they fall in love but life, love and trust aren’t so easy…

The chemistry between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant is absolutely crackling! There’s danger and attraction and yearning for each other and jealousy. You so very much root for these two to get together in the end! The scene where they go to Ingrid’s apartment and hold each other and talk and kiss and never once break contact while moving around to make a phone call is considered to be the longest kissing scene in a movie! I don’t know if that still is the case, but that is the reputation it has had. Here’s a video of Alfred Hitchcock talking about that scene and the funny story that inspired it:

My first inclination was to answer Casablanca to this question, but now, as love stories go, I think I may have to go with Notorious instead! A lot more kissing in there as well than in Casablanca. 😉 Anyway, both are excellent movies!

(30 Day Movie Challenge – the full list of questions)