Sister Kenny

Hey, you nurses out there – this 1946 film is a fascinating look back at a woman who was a nurse pioneer despite never actually going to nursing school.  Sister Elizabeth Kenny was self-trained and worked as an Australian bush nurse providing care to hundreds of people in the bush who were far from the nearest physician. (The “sister” title was a result of her work as a war nurse and she retained it for the rest of her life although she was technically not entitled to use it.)   While the movie may not follow her life with 100% accuracy, nevertheless one cannot help but cheer for her tireless efforts to gain recognition from the (predominantly male, and very conservative) medical community for her controversial “Sister Kenny Method” of treating infantile paralysis (poliomyelitis).   Rosalind Russell plays Elizabeth Kenny with sufficient gravitas and personality to enlist the viewers wholehearted support, and the supporting cast are just that — assistance to move us through her story with grace and medical accuracy.  Russell in fact had known and admired Kenny for several years, and Kenny had successfully treated her toddler son.  While there was great financial reluctance to produce a movie based on this then-still controversial woman, Russell persisted as she believed that the message of the movie was more important than the finances.  How right she was!  The movie lost money, but the Sister Kenny Method was for years the only known effective treatment for the painful muscle spasms associated with polio.  While this is only a distant memory for those of us old enough to have lived before the Salk vaccine, polio victims were immobilized with casts or painful braces prior to the Kenny Method.   Her application of hot moist compresses and gentle passive ROM exercises revolutionized treatment and was in fact a forerunner of physical therapy.   We caught the movie on TCM, and unfortunately it’s not easy to find elsewhere for streaming.   Of course, it’s on YouTube although the quality isn’t as crisp as the version available on TCM.  For anyone interested in a brief look into the life of this fascinating and courageous woman, this movie is Worth the Search.

Best in Show

In one of the many interviews after Schitt’s Creek ended (which we of course caught as we are missing the Rose family and friends), Eugene Levy mentioned that he first worked with Catherine O’Hara in “Best in Show.”  Well, naturally, that meant that we had to find and see the 2000 “mocumentary” and we’re so glad we did.  Short summary:  the movie follows five show dog owners and handlers as they prepare for, compete in, and live their lives after the big Mayflower (should we think “Westminster”?) Dog Show.  Levy and O’Hara are the Flecks, owners of Winky a Norwich terrier.  Other owners or handlers include Christopher Guest (who co-wrote this with Levy), Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins (of Pitch Perfect fame among other films), Jane Lynch as a winning handler and so many others including actual championship dogs.  Fred Willard is the color commentator at the show.   So many shenanigans and so many sendups of stereotypical “show dog people”.   No spoilers for who wins!  The characters are hysterical and the back stories view like a series of over-the-top soap operas.  As we were watching, we were interested in the freshness of the dialogue, and found that most of the film was improvised.   Well, of course!  Fred Willard is especially hilarious (and stole the show – pun definitely intended), and the others are not far behind.  While other dog lovers may or may not enjoy this movie, we certainly did.  The dogs, by the way, were just beautiful, and the humor in the movie focused almost exclusively on the owners.  For light entertainment and a fascinating example of terrific improvisational comedy, this movie is Worth the Search.

A William Powell Double Header

William Powell of course had a day on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. Is anyone more witty and urbane? We caught a some movies we hadn’t seen, including the two in this post. Stay tuned for the third, as it was mentioned in the Movie Palace Mysteries (we promised we’d review a few of those that hadn’t merited a review in )

First up from Jerry – “The Senator Was Indiscreet”. The only film directed by George S. Kaufman (known best for his works on Broadway), this 1947 movie stars Powell and Ella Raines.  It had never been shown previously on TCM, so availability was a treat. (Note: If you missed it on TCM, this film is available only in VHS format through Amazon).  We are big fans of Powell (and his co-star Myra Loy in The Thin Man series) and, because we had not heard of this film decided to view it.  We were not disappointed!  This is a political satire about a Col. Sanders-ish looking US Senator Melvin G. Ashton (Powell) who wants to run for President.  His girlfriend, Poppy McNaughton (played by Ella Raines), a local newspaper reporter is disappointed with stunts he agrees to engage in to get attention for his candidacy.  The “foil” in the firm is political boss Fred Houlihan (played by Ray Collins, of Lt. Tragg fame on the original Perry Mason TV series) who doesn’t want Ashton to run because he is viewed as a dim-witted, bumbling fellow.  However, Ashton is not as dumb as he looks!  He tells Houlihan about a diary he has kept over 30 years that documents all the political misdeeds of his colleagues thereby blackmailing Houlihan (and his cronies) to back a tour cross country promoting his candidacy.  Along the way, you guessed it, the diary goes missing and the film’s focus turns to who stole it, will its contents be published in the newspaper and will all those involved be politically ruined? The hunt to find the diary involves several amusing scenes and, yes, it ultimately is found by Poppy, lost again, and published!  Its publication results in “all” fleeing to a South Sea Island (where Aston has become the “chief”) and there is a very surprising (comedic) cameo star appearance in the final ten seconds of the film.  The cast turns in first rate performances and the story is entertaining – it was well worth the time to watch.  We give it a Worth the Search rating!

Next up is “The Kennel Club Murders” (Mary’s contribution). One of my favorite podcast genres is Old Time Radio Detectives, and Philo Vance is one of the most enjoyable entries of the 1940s. He was introduced in a series of novels by S. S. Van Dine in the 1920s and carried on through several movies in the 30s and 40s.  Saw that William Powell Day on TCM Summer Under the Stars included this 1933 movie which was one of the several that starred Powell as Philo (and directed by Michael Curtiz!), so couldn’t resist.  While not for everyone, William Powell played Philo with just the right air of foppish aristocratic intellectualism.  The cast also includes Mary Astor (a staple of 1930s detective films) and several actors familiar to old time movie buffs (Eugene Pallette’s voice is at least as familiar as his face).   A detective who is a dandy rather than hard boiled, Philo is also a dog breeder, which provided the milieu for the murders.  The story is a traditional “whodunit” with the murder of Archer Coe, a fellow dog breeder and competitor.  There is no shortage of suspects, as Coe has more enemies than friends, and is the wealthy uncle of Hilda Lake (Mary Astor) over whom he exerts total financial control.   Of course, because this is a 30s movie about wealthy people, there has to be an aristocratic boyfriend, a suspicious butler, a secretive cook and an obsequious male secretary.   Another murder, a stabbing, and finally the neighbor’s dog helps Philo confirm the identity of the murderer.  The movie is great fun for those who enjoy films that are clearly period pieces but include familiar characters and just enough questions that the murderer is not immediately obvious.  As fans of old movies, we give this Good for An Afternoon because it’s Top in Genre.

The Movie Palace Mystery Series (Yes, Actual Books)

Yes, we love sharing our thumbnail reviews of old and not-so-old movies.  So why would we both want to write about a series of “cozy” mysteries?  Well, the clue is in the title of the series of course!   The Movie Palace Mystery Series by Margaret Dumas (available on Amazon) is simply a delight for classic movie buffs.   For some reason, the first in the series landed in our shared Kindle library quite some time ago, and we finally got around to reading it.  Well, Mary was hooked and persuaded (didn’t take much) Jerry to give the series a try, even though mystery snobs may classify the books as “chick fiction” fare too light to entertain gentlemen readers.   Sadly, that may dissuade a large swathe of potential readers not to become a part of the Palace theater family.  However, we’ve devoured the first three books of the series (see how hopeful we are that there will be more) and are enjoying the blog authored by the heroine Nora Paige aka Sally Lee aka Margaret Dumas.   The setting (and, one might say, a character as much as a place) is the Palace in San Francisco, a grand old theater that once hosted vaudeville acts and silent films.   It continues to this day showing only classic movies, but of course is always on the verge of potential failure. Here’s a quick look at the delightful (one might say quirky) characters that work in and around the Palace.  First, there’s  Nora the manager who has a plethora of personal problems but has found a happy place to live and work  Her new best friend is Trixie (couldn’t wait to write about Beatrix aka Trixie) the resident and perfectly charming ghost seen only by Nora.  (Trixie was an usherette in the 1930s and died an untimely death over the theater balcony.) And then there’s Marty the grumptious (yes, it’s a made-up word but perfectly descriptive) projectionist who broadcasts the 20th Century fanfare upon arriving at work each day.  Others include Callie a lovely young film student and member of the staff, Albert a 90-something gentleman who first attended the Palace as a young lad, and Brandon who has a massive crush on Callie throughout.  Of course, there are a plethora of other fun characters in the neighborhood that become integral to the Palace stories. The books are chockful of allusions to famous classic films, and there are several blog posts about them along the way. (Sally’s blogs are delightful — worth the read even if you don’t read the books.)  We found several film titles that we had not seen and so of course, we are working our way through them (watch for blog posts on the films in the coming weeks!).  Oh, and yes, there is a mystery to be solved in each book.  It is critical to read the series in order but since each is a quick read, it is certainly not an onerous task. One might characterize each story as sort of classic screwball (if you’re a classic movie fan, you’ll get the allusion) with fiascos galore, shady characters and various shenanigans    Well, it would be easy to go on and on.  Suffice it to say, you must give this series a whirl if you love classic movies, or even if you don’t but you like a charming cozy mystery series (particularly for those of you who plan to curl up in front of a fire in the cold months ahead!). 

In the Good Old Summertime

MGM was known for producing some of the best musicals of the classic film era, and this 1949 film is no exception (in our humble opinions).   We recorded this film earlier this summer on TCM and just got around to watching it.  Well worth the wait at the end of a long, hot summer.  The story is a remake of “The Shop Around the Corner” (which was in turn the basis for “You’ve Got Mail”), and concerns two pen pals who unbeknownst to each other are bickering co-workers.   Judy Garland as Veronica and Van Johnson as Andy are the aforementioned pen pals who work for Mr. Oberkugen (S. Z. Sakall at his loveable best here) in his music shop (in all other versions it was a bookstore, but well, there had to be a reason for breaking into song in the middle of a work day).   Supporting cast also includes Buster Keaton (who had to be cast in the film as he was the only person the director knew who could execute a particularly challenging scene – more about that later) and Spring Byington as the lovely lady friend of Mr. Oberkugen. One other supporting cast member of note – toddler Liza Minnelli has a cameo at the end of the movie as Veronica and Andy’s daughter. The familiar plot is refreshed with so many recognizable tunes, which prove yet again that Garland was an unparalleled talent.   Just too bad we never got to see Van Johnson dance a bit, but Buster Keaton more than made up for that with his impeccably executed accidental destruction of a violin late in the movie.  (Buster also directed a terrific prat-filled early scene when Veronica and Andy meet on the post office steps, so who cares that he is clearly a bit too old for the character he’s playing.)  As you would expect with an MGM musical, the production is beautiful: the street scenes in all seasons are perfect, the restaurants and theater feel like places you’ve been to, the music store is chock-filled with lovely details  and the costumes (Garland’s are by Irene – need I say more) are period-perfect and gorgeous.  For anyone looking for a feel-good movie to take you away from the real world for awhile, this is for you!  We give it Top in Genre and Worth the Search