‘THE LATE, LATE SHOW’ – “GUILTY PLEASURES” (MA-XXX) – Garry Armstrong

Yes, I know. The title sounds like a promo for a soft porn movie. No, it’s not!  I don’t do that stuff. Hold on. It does involve soft porn. I’ll get to that in a few minutes.

One of the few retirement perks we have is staying up late. During my 40 plus years as a TV/radio news guy, I had crazy schedules, usually mandating I be out of bed way before the roosters and sunrise. It meant missing lots of stuff that aired after dinner and during the wee, small hours. It meant missing lots of my favorite old movies.

I’m an ardent fan of the old movies. As a 20 something, I’d set the alarm for 2 or 3 am for “The Late, Late Show.”  This was before the DVR age when all you had to be was awake to see your program. Not just the classics like “Casablanca.” I’m a devotee of film nuggets like “Jubilee Trail” a B-western from the 1950s.  I love the film’s theme song and, actually, almost lobotomized myself to see the pre-dawn airing of the film just to hear Buddy Baer and the iconic Vera “Hruba” Ralston sing the song. I sang along with them until my parents awoke and told me to shut up. “Jubilee Trail” is one of my guilty pleasures.

The Magnificent Seven
Hell is definitely coming …

Marilyn doesn’t share my fondness for these movie nuggets. Golly, my heart still skips a few beats when Forrest Tucker finally concedes his love for the adorable Joan Leslie and the “Jubilee Trail” song swells up full volume to a happy ending and the closing credits. My eyes still tear up over the romantic conclusion. Yes, a guilty pleasure for a cheezy b-western.

Marilyn doesn’t share my fondness but “gets” the pleasure I derive from these films. She’s set me up with headphones and the opportunity to nightly watch my guilty pleasure flicks as she listens to audiobooks or watches her own favorite stuff on her Kindle.  Thanks, Marilyn!  You’ll do!

Okay, last night, still recovering from my “Marathon Man” like dental session this week, I snuggled under the covers with a headset on to watch some classic guilty pleasure stuff.

I started with “Marie Antoinette,” a lavish 1938 MGM picture I haven’t seen in decades. I watched it with great anticipation.  What a cast!  Norma Shearer, Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, Robert Morley, and Gladys George just to name a few legends from the studio that boasted more stars than there are in heaven.

Norma Shearer was queen bee at MGM from the late ’20s to the early ’40s. She was married to Irving Thalberg,  Metro’s “Boy Wonder” who churned out some of Hollywood’s greatest films.  It meant Norma Shearer got all the plum roles. It didn’t matter that she was always “playing young” for parts in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Marie Antoinette.”  It usually doesn’t faze me.

However, last night I realized Norma was bringing her “Sandra Dee” take on the “let them eat cake” lady.  It was ridiculous. I stayed with this epic out of respect for old Hollywood. I gave up, however, when Joseph Schildkraut popped up, wearing more mascara, powder, and eye-liner than Norma Shearer. I couldn’t handle it.

What a cast!

I went to something I knew would be good. A Randolph Scott western. “Riding Shotgun.” a 1950s Scott cowboy saga in blazing color. I sat up straight as the credits rolled and a deep baritone voice sang a familiar range rider song. This was gonna be great!

Randy was doing a voice-over narration to barrel up a plot that was older than its venerable star. I watched in disbelief as the movie played on like a “Blazing Saddles” parody except this was not supposed to be a comedy. I gave up in disgust about 30 minutes into the western. Unbelievable!

Two classic movies, guilty pleasures, that were stinkeroos. I felt so cheated, so abandoned, so bereft and numb. I was in limbo, trying to fall asleep.

Remember my line about soft porn? Yes, guilty pleasure of a different kind. Why do guys watch (soft) porn? For its cinematic value?  Hey, I used to read “Playboy” for the articles and studied the photo layouts for their pictorial artistry.

I remember attending The Fine Arts Theater back on Long Island of the ’60s. It was a semi cultural venue. They were running “Tunes of Glory.” I went, anticipating “culture” with 40-DD breast cups. I was bummed out. “Tunes of Glory,” with Alec Guinness and John Mills, turned out to be a memorable twist on war movies. Guinness and Mills were brilliant as the disparate military heroes. Think “Bridge on The River Kwai” with a heavier bashing of heroic images.

I sat in the dark, mesmerized by the film but disturbed that it wasn’t a Hugh Hefner/Russ Meyers product. Gee Whiz! It wasn’t a total loss because the film introduced Susannah York who I immediately adored. So, a guilty pleasure? Yes!

I must “out” myself on another guilty pleasure type film. As a kid and young man, I was addicted to westerns and war movies, normal for any red-blooded young fella. I cringed when the action paused for “mushy stuff.” I didn’t understand critics who praised the work of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy and other notable actresses of Hollywood’s golden age.  The gooey love stuff was so boring. Nowadays, I never miss the films of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Myrna Loy and the other legendary ladies which I dissed as a young movie maven.

I like the pluck displayed by these women on and off-screen. They fought the studio bosses for quality roles and against movies and parts that demeaned women. I didn’t get this when I was younger. Now, as an old fart, stereotypes, and ageism, resonate strongly.

Guys are not supposed to like romcoms, chick flicks, melodramas or other movies where women have equal standing or are stronger and savvier than the male co-stars.  Reality bites!

When I hang out with the guys, we mourn the demise of westerns and dramas where a man was a man. If I mention Davis or Crawford, I can see the eyebrows rise around the lunch table. You have to be discreet with guilty pleasures, right? No, wrong, dammit! Our current political culture is egregious enough without ridicule of your entertainment preferences.

I wonder how Duke Wayne, Papa Hemingway, Bogie, and their brethren would deal with today’s good old boys and the too-long delayed exposure of their moral decay.

I’ll take my guilty pleasures, thank you, and enjoy their stories.

What’s it all about?  As an iconic movie private eye once observed, “Uh, the stuff dreams are made of!”

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

25 thoughts on “‘THE LATE, LATE SHOW’ – “GUILTY PLEASURES” (MA-XXX) – Garry Armstrong”

    1. ALL of our television is WiFi now. We cut the cord. It’s not that much cheaper, but we get more variety (though every cop show in every country is the same) than we did on cable. We get a lot of English, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand shows and American English sounds weird these days.

      Most of the “new” shows are just old shows with different actors. Literally, when you’ve seen a few, you’ve seen them all. I watch sports (baseball) and a little bit of football … but otherwise, I write or work on photographs. I get really bored with the ‘latest greatest’ TV shows. Garry has more enthusiasm for cop shows than I do, but otherwise, we have more or less the same taste. He is much more a sports fan than I am.

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        1. We watch a lot of Ken Burns’ documentaries on our Public Broadcast Station. They are REALLY good. Way way back when they were just starting out (Ken has a woman partner whose name I have embarrassingly forgotten), they were down on the Vineyard when we were there, so I wrote a long piece about them. I don’t think anyone knew how important they would become. They have made documentaries as good as any movie.

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            1. Sue, the Ken Burns’ docs are REALLY good. They always give you the people, the social aura and the political issues that surround the doc’s topic. Baseball, Prohibition, The Great Depression, The Civil War, The Roosevelts, etc. They are more than one dimensional history lessons with the usual quotes and analytical takes. I think they should be part of school curriculum’s for history deprived students. They also breathe life into history – more so than the old dry, outdated text books that kids find so boring.
              Dayton Duncan is a member of the Burns’ producing team. I met him back in the early 70’s when I was covering the Seabrook (N.H.) Anti Nuclear Power Rallies. Dayton, as I recall, was someone who gave me a sense of history and relevance to the the story — something BEYOUND the political rhetoric and rally chants. It enabled me to cover the story with a sense of perspective – not just wrap my reports around the daily sound and fury of the anti-nuke rallies and the Seabrook Nuke PR suits. I’ve never thanked Dayton Duncan – but he’s part of the staff that makes the Ken Burns docs so palatable, entertaining and educational.

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      1. This year’s baseball playoffs are top shelf stuff even though our beloved Bosox missed out. I think they’re in group therapy. These games are what we expect from our national pastime. I love it all except the nonstop, nonsensical jabber from the overloaded announcer’s booth. Where have you gone Vin Scully?

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    2. Sue, I agree. Y’know, part of the magic for me is/are the stereotypes of the old movies. You have a good chance of a happy ending no matter how bad things look in the middle of the movie. Sometimes you have to smile at the movie and yourself for the “hollywood ending” – knowing it doesn’t happen this way in real life. That, for me, has always been part of the magic of those old film. It’s the fantasy element.
      The Post WW2 film makers decided the public had enough of fantasy and ditzy, screwball comedies. A generation had grown up with the horrors of the war and its collateral damage – PTSD, Racism welcoming minority veterans back home, etc.
      The romantic films – “Love Letters”, “Portrait of Jennie” — had haunted, psychological undertones in keeping with the times.

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        1. Sue, that’s an excellent question. I look at the promos being run for the newest movies. A lot of noise and very quick montages. They seem to be about remakes or reboots of zombie movies, horror flicks and the odd gangsta movie. There’s one “Motherless Brooklyn” that includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Alec Baldwin and William DaFoe. It looks and sounds like a Spike Lee/Quentin Tarrentino retooling of a Capolla “Godfather” film. And, there is still ANOTHER “Terminator” film with a very old “Arnold” and his equally old super-powered spouse. Doesn’t look funny.
          And, there’s a reboot of “Midway” which Marilyn and I clearly remember because we saw the world premiere of the mid 70’s version of “Midway”. We also (name dropping time, again) met many of the stars — “Chuck’ Heston, “Hank” Fonda, Burgess Meredith and Kevin Dobson — at big media luncheon for the film. Seems like just yesterday for us. The new “Midway” includes the venerable Woody Harrelson (w/ a blonde wig) playing a military big-wig. I wonder if Woody has the old Heston role. What’s old is new or deja vous all over again as Marilyn and Yogi Berra keep telling us.

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          1. I wonder whether it is just the prospect of a guaranteed audience that keeps rebooting the older films? Few of them warrant it…the best ones were good as they were, the rest aren’t likely to be any better with CGI.
            Or are we just discouraging imagination these days?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Sue, WE aren’t discouraging imagination. We mourn its absence. We also miss literate plots and great dialogue. I grew up in a world where the word was all important. I’ll match my old manual typewriter any day against computers with their creative defeating photo shop apps and deafening sound links. Yes, I am defintely a dinosaur.
              Marilyn and I are like adult children when sit with old classics like “Inherit The Wind” where the actors have wonderful dialogue and scripts (based on FACTS) to die for.

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              1. Sadly a lot of media now is advertisement ( and therefore viewers=revenue) driven. I read a statement by the BBC, who have produced so many excellent dramas over the decades a while back, where they say they now have to include either sex or violence every fifteen minues to keep their audience… I find that incredibly sad.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Sue, that BBC statement about the need for sex and violence IS sad. We thought they were better than that. Guess it’s the same everywhere.
                  Another reason for my preference for the old flicks. They may be corny by current standards but sex and violence aren’t necessary every 15 minutes. Think of the dialogue exchange in movies like “Dinner at Eight” — the one between Marie Dressler and Jean Harlow. Jean is apologetic about not being up on the latest books. Dressler, looking at the sexy Harlow, “..honey, I wouldn’t worry bout that if I were you”.

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      1. I also read the book and have seen the movie multiple times. The worm has turned for me.
        Betrayal of a classic? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

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    1. Leslie, GWTW is one of those classics that don’t age well. The beloved plot exposes Hollywood’s affection for a piece of our past which wasn’t wonderful. I FF past the really galling racist stuff that I accepted for too many years. The opening which I loved as poetic for a long time now really angers me as they yearn for “..a time and place where chivalry flowered..a time –gone with the wind”. I still appreciate the legendary cast and some of the eye-popping scenes like the burning of Atlanta. That iconic (yes, ICONIC) crane shot that starts tight and rises to show the tattered flag – frame cornered – with the field of mangled casualties of war. I can appreciate the film’s artistry but not its story. I know that’s contradictory but it goes with my movie maven dna. Movies like “Judgement At Nuremberg” and “Mississippi Burning” are watched by only one of us. You can guess who can’t stomach which classic.

      Liked by 1 person

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