Movies

UNSUNG HEROES – ALL MINE TO GIVE – 1957

Unsung Heroes — We all have our semi-secret, less-known personal favorites — a great B-side, an early work by an artist that later became famous, an obscure (but delicious) family recipe. Share one of your unsung heroes with us — how did you discover it? Why has it stayed off everyone’s radar?


all mine to giveI have quite a few favorite obscure movies (and Garry has many more), but this one is particularly appropriate since it is, after all, nearly Christmas.

All Mine to Give (British title: The Day They Gave Babies Away) is a 1957 film starring Glynis Johns and Cameron Mitchell that’s a four hankie special.

I crossed paths with it sometime in the pre-dawn hours during the late spring of 1969 while I was nursing my son and the television was playing late night movies. I was deeply hormonal at the time and though I’d missed the beginning, I watched it to the end.


The Story

Robert and Mamie Eunson (Cameron Mitchell and Glynis Johns) are Scots who have just landed in America (the year is 1856). Mamie is heavily pregnant upon their reaching Eureka; she delivers baby Robbie (Rex Thompson) soon after the cabin is completed. Robert eventually starts a successful boat building business and Mamie gives birth to five more children.

The Eunsons are doing well and happy — until little Kirk is diagnosed with diphtheria. Mamie and Kirk are quarantined while Robert takes the other children away. The boy recovers, but the goodbye kiss Kirk gave his Dadda before his departure proves fatal, and Robert succumbs.

Mamie takes to working as a seamstress and Robbie becomes the man of the house. Things stabilize, but only briefly: tired and work-worn, Mamie contracts typhoid. Knowing she will not survive, she charges Robbie, her eldest, with finding good homes for his siblings.

After Mamie’s death, Robbie places his brothers and sisters with townsfolk as Christmas approaches. Baby Jane is the last to be handed over — Robbie stands at the door of a house and asks the woman who answers, “Please, ma’am, I was wondering if you’d care to have my sister.”

The Rest of the Story

It would be 30 years before I found out the name of the movie. When I described it, Garry knew it immediately. Garry always knows. He’s the Movie Maven.

We watched it the other day. He saw it was on and recorded in on our DVR. What would we do without Turner Classic Movies? Surprisingly, it was still good. Still gave me the sniffles. Because now we have Google and all that implies, I looked it up and discovered the story is based on real events. The movie was made from a book written by one of the kids (grandkids?) of the children portrayed in the movie. If you are up for a good cry, this is an excellent choice.

This is definitely a Christmas story. I’m not sure if you would call it inspiring. I’d have to ponder the definition of inspiring. Touching, for sure.

OUR TOP 5 HOLIDAY MOVIES

I was looking for a movie to watch and suddenly, I realized our shelves are full of Christmas movies.  It’s already December, so if we don’t watch them now, we probably won’t watch them this year, at all.

ChristmasStory_158Pyxurz

A Christmas Story (1983)

So. I diligently went from shelf to shelf, extracting our holiday-themed movies. They are all favorites or we wouldn’t own them. And yes, we still buy DVDs because it’s really empowering to have movies to watch when the cable and WiFi decide to take a vacation.

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It’s A Wonderful Life

This time of year, it’s not unusual for heavy snow or rain or wind to leave us without a connection … and that’s when — assuming we have electricity — we go to the big DVD shelf in the hallway. Where our movie collection lives.

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The decorations will up this afternoon. Extracting them from the attic has become somewhat of a challenge. Our bodies and the folding ladder to the attic have aged and make loud, scary, creaking noises. Nonetheless, decorations will make their annual appearance today by hook or crook. Probably hook. I’ve bought wrapping paper, bows and tags and our little trees are in place and glow gently throughout the evening. Almost all the shopping is finished.

Alastair sim Chrismas carol

The weather is gray and cold, so what could be better than a cup of cocoa and a warm movie?

Here’s our holiday list. It’s a short list, a very personal list. It isn’t a “best of list,” just movies we like.

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life (Directed by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, 1946)
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  3. Christmas Carol (Starring Alastair Sim, 1951)
  4. Home for the Holidays (Starring Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, 1995)
  5. A Christmas Story (Narrated by and based on a story by Jean Shepherd, 1983)

There are more. We have “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn.” At least two other versions of “A Christmas Carol” and a newer remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” And then there are a bunch of Disney movies that could be considered Christmas movies … like “Lady and the Tramp.” We don’t have enough time to watch them all, so we selected our favorites. If we find ourselves with a little spare time, we’ll add others.

Miracle-on-34th-St

Let me briefly address the issue of “happy holiday” versus “merry Christmas.” If you celebrate Christmas and wish me the same, I’ll smile and wish you one in return. If you celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or nothing … that’s okay too. Remember — not everyone is Christian. Even among those who are, not everyone celebrates Christmas, for whatever reason. People are entitled to be different. It isn’t (yet) a crime.

Take a lesson from the spirit the holidays supposedly represent. Happy holiday is not an insult. It is a non-denominational way to wish you well in a month full of holidays.

Enjoy your celebrations, whatever they are. I will happily accept any well-meant greeting in the spirit it was offered. Don’t use the holidays an excuse to spread ill-will.

Have yourself some great holidays. Be of good cheer, whatever you celebrate. And happy New Year to one and all!

LEWIS CARROLL — HOW DOTH THE LITTLE CROCODILE

How Doth the Little Crocodile” appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Recited by Alice in Chapter 2, it describes a crocodile who lures fish into its mouth with a smile.

How Doth the Little Crocodile

Lewis Carroll

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

I suspect it’s the source of the idea for “Never Smile at a Crocodile” in Disney’s animated “Peter Pan” (1953).


It parodies a popular Victorian children’s poem:

How Doth the Little Busy Bee

Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

CAN’T BUY ME LOVE

72-No-No-No_1

A bit of great music from the very young Beatles and an apology.

I can’t do this. It’s a challenge I can’t meet. Maybe I just don’t want to. This is supposed to be a writing challenge. I have no idea how to write in single syllables. I’m doubt I ever did. I can’t even write my name in a single syllable. Or that of my husband.

So, enjoy the Beatles. It’s a song in as close to single syllables as I could find. We very recently watched “Hard Days Night,” and it was as much fun as the first time we saw it. Sing along why don’t you?

One at a time, Daily Prompt

ON NOT BEING A CULTURE SNOB

I read a post about how dreadful (yet gripping) romance novels can be. It’s true. They are the potato chips of the literary world. Bet you can’t consume just one! Even if you don’t like them (and mostly, I don’t, much), they grab you and won’t let you go, even though you know in advance exactly what is going to happen, pretty much from the opening page.

That’s not the point of these books. If as a girl, you read the back of cereal boxes, romance novels are the next step up. I’m not sure what the literary equivalent is for guys, but I’m sure there is one.

netflix for books

As the former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I can tell you our research showed readers of romance novels to be far better educated than average readers. Many have advanced degrees in the sciences. They read romance novels exactly because they are mindless pulp. They aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down. If life gets in the way, they can just forget them without regret.

I read each 3-book volume, one per month. It contained three romances: 2 modern with a Gothic sandwiched between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would like, people don’t necessarily read books because they are good. Me? I often avoid “good” books. I don’t want to go where the book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it.

Why? Too depressing, too intense, too serious, too ugly, too educational. Too real. I read for the same reasons I watch TV and movies. To be entertained. I am not seeking enlightenment. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many books. Enough genres, themes, and styles for anyone. Everyone. An infinity of literature so no matter what your taste –low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.

I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too. Snobs take the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s fine. Since I love reading about vampires and witches, I’d be a hypocrite to act like your taste is somehow inferior to mine.

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for serious literature. Tastes change with the years. Mine has changed more than most. Life has been a very serious business for me. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I am happy to escape from reality.

Finally, my favorite professor at university — a man I believe was profound and wise in every way that counted — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was a much truth in his books. I believe for him, there was.

GUILTY PLEASURES – REDUX

Grateful and Guilty – Whether it’s a trashy TV show, extra-pulpy fiction, or nutrient-free candy, write a thank-you note to your guiltiest guilty pleasure.

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This prompt is 100% rerun. And this response is the identical (except for a teeny tiny bit of editing) response I made the first time around, on June 23, 2013. I keep saying: if you are going to re-issue the same prompts, I’m going to republish what I wrote in response. Not that anyone from WordPress pays the least bit of attention to what we write. You guys up there think we are really not very bright, don’t you.


No matter how sophisticated we become, how many degrees in film, literature or the arts we obtain, we keep our guilty pleasures. By which I mean the movies, books, books, and television shows we know aren’t great — and may be really dumb.

It doesn’t matter. We love them anyway.

xena-xena-warrior-princess-4981093-1200-800

I have a whole bushel of them, ranging from television shows about vampires with glowing eyes (Forever Knight), to reruns of the original Lassie. I’m a sucker for any movie featuring a non-human, be it cat, dog, horse, or sea creature. I’ll watch pretty much anything in which Candice Bergen starred or was at least featured. I’ll watch anything from any season of any Star Trek, even if I’ve seen it a hundred times.

star_trek_the_original_series

I love comedies by Mel Brooks, even the bad ones because they make me laugh. Ditto the Zucker brothers for the same reason. If you can make me laugh, you’ve got me. Sometimes, I watch things that are unintentionally funny … Xena, Princess Warrior comes to mind. I don’t know whether it was supposed to be funny, but it made me laugh until I cried.

high-anxiety-poster

My lists of favorite movies, books and television shows are a study in contrasts. I love The Lion In Winter and The Seventh Seal. I love Airplane and Hotshots Deux. I never miss a run of Best Of Show or A Mighty Wind. Or the original version of The Haunting.  From the sublime to the ridiculous, I will watch or read whatever grabs my fancy or makes me laugh without discrimination.

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It’s one of the reasons I think that “awards” like the Golden Globes and the Oscars need many more categories. How can you put a screwball comedy against a serious drama and have any kind of sensible outcome? It would be like having a dog show that included camels and goats. It wouldn’t matter how beautiful a goat or camel you have entered, it would never win Best of show.

forever-knight-season1-cast1

What makes you laugh? What cheers you up when you’ve got the blues? Are you a secret fan of Gilligan’s Island or Love Boat? Time to come clean!

A POPPY IN REMEMBRANCE

World War I (WWI) officially began on July 28, 1914, though its real beginnings were rooted in events beginning decades, even centuries earlier. An ugly, devastating war consisting of 4 years of slaughter ending on November 11, 1918, they day we celebrate today.

The official number of military casualties is 22,477,500 killed, wounded, or missing in action. The combined number of military and civilian casualties is more than 37 million. If, as I do, you consider World War II as chapter two of the same conflict, the number of dead becomes even more incomprehensible.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has celebrates Veteran’s Day each year, usually by inviting historians and military people to do introductions and closing comments on war films. General Wesley Clark has been doing TCM’s commentaries, most recently for Oh! What a Lovely War.

He referred to the movie as a musical comedy. While it has amusing moments, calling it a musical comedy doesn’t cut it. If comedy can be dark, this is totally black. It’s also surprisingly informative. I can date my interest in World War I and modern American history to having seen this movie when it was released in 1969.

In his closing comments following the movie, General Clark said he hoped we had learned our lesson from this and all the other wars of the past century. I turned to Garry and said, “And what lesson, exactly, might that be?”

“Obviously,” said my husband, making a sour face, “We have learned nothing.”

I agree. Well, we did learn a few things, though nothing good. We learned to build more lethal weapons. We can kill more people faster than we did 100 years ago. Much of our military technology emerged during and post-WWI.

I don’t see this as progress. If you want to know why I’m so cynical, why I have trouble believing in a benign deity, look at the casualty figures from the collective wars of the past century.

I love this movie. Not only because of its historical veracity — it’s accurate — but because the music is wonderful. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British cinema at the time — Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson and more, all having a great time.

I’ve seen this many times and I guess so has Garry since we can both know the words to all the songs. Very catchy.


OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Until I saw this movie, I didn’t get the connection between poppies and World War I.

All I knew was that veterans organizations gave red poppies to people when they donated money, but I had no idea why. After you see this movie, you will never forget why.

I originally saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969. It’s World War I — in song, dance and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain.

The songs were sung by the troops and the cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen in the 1960s. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans. So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918, the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered. The death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease or starvation. It paved the way for major political upheaval throughout the world.

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could be called an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder a generation of men. They did a good job.

The statements of the historical characters — all lodged a safe distance from the fighting — are ludicrous. General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really said: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? He said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans and their takeover of the endless war — bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to save — is a great cinematic moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would Europe exist or would it all be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs mixed with pithy comments from generals, kings, Kaisers and soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and what those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny, catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and love great movies, grab one.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and informative, this movie is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I haven’t forgotten it.

If you are willing to pay an exorbitant price, Amazon has a few copies here.

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