not a book

Not a Book: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

God I love a movie musical. Here we are for the latest in my series of films I love.

Marilyn Monroe! Jane Russell! Do you need to know any more? Ok well if you do, Marilyn’s Lorelei is on the hunt for a rich husband. Russell’s Dorothy is her best friend who is looking for love. They’re both show girls and over the course of the movie we follow them from New York to Paris while being trailed by a private eye hired by the father of the rich idiot that Marilyn is engaged too. There are song and dance numbers, there’s comedy and there’s true love. It’s delightful.

I know everyone always talks about Marilyn Monroe, and I get it, but god I love Jane Russell. I first saw her in the French Line on a Sunday afternoon about 20 years ago and I’m still not over it. Anyway, for me this film doesn’t work without her. Her wise cracks balance out Marilyn’s dizzy, ditsy gold digging and make everything better. The songs are great, the script is funny and the Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend number has been copied so many times since that it’s worth watching to see the original of that alone!

Happy Sunday!

not a book, romantic comedy

Not a Book: The Philadelphia Story

This Sunday I’m treating you to the latest instalment in my occasional series about films I love is the Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn comedy The Philadelphia Story.

Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia family, who is about to get married for the second time. Days before the wedding, her ex-husband turns up, with a tabloid reporter and photographer in tow. C K Dexter Haven (Grant) has been working for Spy magazine in South America since his marriage to Tracy broke up (she didn’t like his drinking, he drank because he didn’t like her criticisms of him) and is inveigled into taking Maccauley “Mike” Connor (James Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) the the wedding with a threat that if he doesn’t then a scandal about Tracy’s father will be published instead. Thus the scene is set for a love square as Tracy finds herself drawn to Mike and to her ex husband all while she’s preparing to marry George.

There’s more to it than that of course, but that’s the best potted plot summary I can come up with. It’s very funny and is managing to skirt the production code rules of the time by being a comedy of remarriage (see also Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday among others) and it’s full of snappy, witty dialogue as well as a few nice bits of physical comedy. If you’re a fan of movie musicals, you’ll recognise the plot as it was later turned into High Society (with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly) but it started as a stage play -written for Hepburn – and marked her comeback after being dubbed Box Office Poison after a string of flops. I didn’t know any of the Hepburn-y background when I first watched it on a DVD in my hall of residence at university. I just thought it was clever and funny and something a bit out of the normal run of the black and white movie classics I was renting (from LoveFilm!) at the time.

That said, it does fit perfectly into the types of romantic comedies – films and books – that I love. It’s got a smart heroine (as well as a smart hero), it’s got plenty of banter and the comedy doesn’t come from humiliation – see also When Harry Met Sally, Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Shall We Dance (the Fred and Ginger film) and authors like Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Philips, Julia Quinn and Lucy Parker (although those last two are more witty than comic).

Anyway, this is the sort of film you’re most likely to come across on TV on a Sunday afternoon – and if you do, you should definitely stop and watch it.

not a book

Not a Book: Some Like It Hot

A couple of years ago, when Doris Day died, I wrote a whole post about my love for the Hollywood icon. In it, I mentioned that my top five films of all time are Pillow Talk, Some Like It Hot, The Philadelphia Story, Mary Poppins and the Hayley Mills Parent Trap. I stand by that list, although I will say that leaving the Sound of Music out makes me anxious, so today, I thought I’d write about why I love Some Like It Hot.

If you’ve never seen the film, you can get a pretty good idea from the trailer, but basically, after two jobbing musicians witness a mob shooting in Prohibition Chicago they try to escape retribution from the gangsters by posing as women called Daphne and Geraldine and joining all-girl band. They promptly both fall in love with the band’s singer (and ukulele player) Sugar. High jinx ensue, especially when a millionaire falls in love with Daphne and the mob turn up for the “Friends of Italian Opera” meeting. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are Daphne and Geraldine, and Marilyn Monroe is Sugar. If I haven’t sold it to you by now, I should add that the director and writer is Billy Wilder, who was also behind Sunset Boulevard and the Apartment.

I honestly can’t remember when I first watched it, but I do know that I’ve had the DVD in my collection for about 20 years now, and I have it recorded on both the upstairs and downstairs TiVo – because you never know when you might be poorly and need to watch a film in bed to cheer you up. Especially in Covid times. It will reliably cheer me up and is also probably the only film with Al Capone-style mobsters that I will watch! It’s just funny and so fun that you manage to forget that two men pretending to be women and using the knowledge they gain in disguise to help them get a girl is a bit of a problem. But it seems in films it’s one of my favourite things – see also Pillow Talk and You’ve Got Mail, and also Lover Come Back and Sleepless in Seattle.

I know I said this is not a post about books, but there are a couple of books on my favourites list with cross dressing main characters – on the historical romance front there’s Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades and The Masqueraders, but there’s also Terry Pratchett’s A Monstrous Regiment. There’s a bunch more that I’ve read, but those three are the one’s I’ve come back to over and over. I think it’s easier to pull off in print because you don’t have to worry about needing to make the illusion convincing – the reason that Some Like It Hot is in black and white is because the amount of makeup needed for Lemmon and Curtis made their faces look green (Drag Race shows that beard/stubble coverage make up has moved on a long way in the last sixty years) and you can leave it all to the reader’s imagination – going the other way, I’ve never thought that Imogen Stubbs makes that convincing a boy in the film of Twelfth Night, for all that I love that movie (and not just because it has Toby Stevens in a bath at one point) and in fact the play.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a Sunday afternoon film to watch, why not watch this today – not only is it hilarious, but it’s also right up there on most of the greatest film lists, which given how serious a lot of the others on those lists are, surely makes it worth your time. And of course it has one of the greatest last lines ever. If you don’t know what it is, I’m not going to spoil it for you though!