Small Town Girl, 1936, Is Playing on TCM on June 6 (USA)

Small Town Girl, 1936, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, June 6 at 12 noon

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Robert Taylor and Janet Gaynor

For most of her career Janet Gaynor did nothing but play small town girls, the best known being Esther Blodgett. But I’ve seen her in films like State Fair and Three Loves Has Nancy and it’s the same part, the girl from the tiny hamlet who conquers the big city and the men in it. With a title like this, there was only one casting possibility.

Janet’s a girl who’s thoroughly stuck in a rut in her New England hamlet and yearns for a little adventure. She finds it in the person of Robert Taylor, a young doctor who comes from a wealthy Boston family. After a night’s carousing Gaynor and Taylor are married, to the chagrin of his fiancée, Binnie Barnes and her boyfriend James Stewart.

Remember this is Boston so Taylor’s father Lewis Stone prevails on Taylor to give the marriage a few months trial. Of course this is where the balance of the story comes in. In many ways this plot seems like a harbinger of The Way We Were.

Taylor’s career was now in full swing as Small Town Girl was the next film after his breakout performance in Magnificent Obsession. Remember in that film he was a playboy who became a doctor. Here’s he’s a doctor who doubles as a playboy. Never mind though, feminine hearts all over the English speaking world were fluttering over MGM’s latest heartthrob. My mother who was a juvenile at this time told me that Taylor’s appeal back in these days was just about the same as Elvis’s.

James Stewart was at the beginning of his career as well as MGM had him in about seven features in 1936, mostly in support. Interesting though with worse career management, he could have gone on playing hick roles like Elmer the boyfriend. But it was also obvious there was a spark of stardom with him as well.

Gaynor would leave the screen a few years later, Taylor was at the beginning of his career. He’d have better acting roles in his future, but for now Small Town Girl is a great example of the screen heartthrob he was at the beginning of his stardom. Fans of both stars will like what they see in Small Town Girl. Review by bkoganbing from Buffalo, NewYork

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Taylor has Gaynor upside-down.

Some behind-the-scenes photos:

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Top to bottom: Robert Taylor and Janet Gaynor taking a break on the set; filming a scene; Taylor and Gaynor with singer Frances Langford.

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Broadway Melody of 1938, 1937, Is Playing on TCM on June 3 (USA)

Broadway Melody of 1938, 1937, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, June3 at 3 p.m. est   The film cost $1,588,000 and made a profit of $271,000 or $4,609,188.57 in today’s money. 

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Broadway Melody of 1938 is one of those pure escapist type films that folks in the Thirties paid their money to see. It’s a nice film combining both a backstage and a racetrack story with one of the most eclectic casts ever assembled for a film.

What can you say when you’ve got dancing covered by Eleanor Powell, George Murphy and Buddy Ebsen, the varied singing styles of Judy Garland, Sophie Tucker, and Igor Gorin and such incredible character actors as Raymond Walburn, Charley Grapewin, Billy Gilbert, and Robert Benchley. All of them such great performers and such vivid personalities there’s no way that the film could be bad.

Almost lost in the shuffle are Robert Taylor and Binnie Barnes who don’t sing or dance and aren’t colorful. But Binnie Barnes is one fine actress and she’s the villain of the piece as Raymond Walburn’s wife who was once part of the chorus, but wants not to be reminded of from where she came. She’s jealous of Eleanor Powell and has a thing for Taylor, As did half the young women in America in 1937. Though the part doesn’t call for any kind of real acting, Robert Taylor shows every bit as to why he was such a screen heart throb that year. He’s the nice guy producer/director who gets caught in a crunch between his financial backer Raymond Walburn and his wife and the girl of his dreams, Eleanor Powell. Walburn is in the role that Guy Kibbee had in 42nd Street and he does it well with his own avuncular touches.

Powell is not just an ambitious hoofer as are Ebsen and Murphy. She’s also the owner of race horse upon whose performance everyone’s future eventually rides. Just how the racetrack and backstage are woven into the same plot you have to see the film for.

Vocal highlights are provided by Judy Garland who sings her famous Dear Mr. Gable version of that old Al Jolson song, You Made Me Love You. She also sings Everybody Sing which is a number I personally like a whole lot better. Honest Indian.

Sophie Tucker is her mother who owns and operates a theatrical boarding house where half the cast lives. She’s an old trooper herself and of course she gets to sing her famous theme, Some of These Days.

Other material that the MGM songwriting team of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown did not provide for this film are a couple operatic arias sung by the great concert singer Igor Gorin. He sings Largo Al Factotum from The Barber of Seville and the Toreador Song from Carmen. I’d venture a guess that Louis B. Mayer signed Gorin for this as an effort to keep his other two singers Nelson Eddy and Allan Jones in line. In fact Eddy and Mayer did not get along and Jones would be leaving MGM the following year. Gorin is in fine voice, but did not have much screen presence and has very few spoken lines. I don’t think that was an accident.

Broadway Melody of 1938 is one of MGM’s best musicals from the Thirties and how can you not like a film with as much talent as this one is loaded with.   Review by bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York for the IMDb.

Some behind the scenes photos:

Edward G. Robinson, Sophie Tucker, Robert Taylor

Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor

Some of the Above Are George Murphy, Judy Garland, Sophie Tucker, Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, Vilma Ebsen, Buddy Ebsen

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The Secret Land, 1948, Is Playing on TCM on June 1

The Secret Land, 1948, is Playing on Turner Classic Movies on Weddnesday, June 1 at 3:30 a.m.

Land, 1948, is a documentary about Admiral Richard Byrd and his explorations of the Antartic.  It is narrated by Cmdr. Robert Montgomery USNR, Lt. Robert Taylor USNR and Lt. Van Heflin AAFR. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Film in 1948.

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Here are two synopses:

  • This documentary, filmed entirely by military photographers, recounts the U.S. Navy’s 1946-47 expedition to Antarctica, known as Operation High Jump. The expedition was under the overall command of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, no stranger to the Antarctic. This was a large undertaking involving 13 ships and over 4000 thousand men. The fleet departed from Norfolk, Virginia traveling through the Panama canal and then southward to their final destination. The trip through the ice pack was fraught with danger and forced the submarine that was part of the fleet to withdraw. The trip was a success meeting all of its scientific goals. The film is narrated by three Hollywood stars, all of whom served in the US Navy: Robert Taylor, Robert Montgomery and Van Heflin (I)’.- Written by garykmcd
  • This film documents the largest expedition ever undertaken to explore Antarctica. The expedition, code named “Operation High Jump,” was made by the U.S. Navy and involved 13 ships (including one submarine), 23 aircraft, and about 4700 men. The film was shot by photographers from all branches of the U.S. military. One purpose of the expedition was to explore and photograph several thousand square miles of inland and coastal areas that had not been previously mapped. Additionally, military planners wanted to evaluate whether military troops could successfully perform against an adversary in such an environment.- Written by David Glagovsky <dglagovsky@verizon.net>
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Robert Taylor in the Navy, with Lucille Ball and Kathryn Grayson, ca. 1943.

and one Review:

Some Real Heroes

Back in the day when documentary film making was more than some obnoxious twit sticking a video camera in front of celebrities and then editing the content for a political agenda, MGM contributed this classic about Admiral Byrd’s post World War II expedition to Antarctica. The film was narrated by three WWII veterans with MGM, Robert Montgomery, Van Heflin, and Robert Taylor.

The men here are assigned some of the most hazardous peace time duty the United States Navy ever had to perform. The polar regions are some of the most forbidding area on our globe. The film captures some real dangers the Navy faced. We see a submarine caught in a frozen ice flow, a rescue of a man being transferred from ship to ship via breecher’s buoy when the line snaps and he’s tossed into the frozen sea, a crash of one of the planes. This film captures all the hazards of the expedition and the forbidding beauty of Antarctica.

From his transatlantic flights and his early polar expeditions Admiral Richard E. Byrd was a genuine American hero. We probably know more about the geography of the polar regions due to his work than any other individual. After this expedition, Byrd in fact did return to the South Pole as late as two years before he died in 1957. Review for the Imdb by bkoganbing (Buffalo, New York).

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Bataan, 1943, Is Playing on TCM on May 30 (USA)

Bataan (1943) is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, May 30 at 11:15 p.m. est.

This is an extremely intense picture, made when nobody knew for sure how the war (World War II) would end. Well worth watching.

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This is one of the best war films of its era, and it is actually less anti-Japanese than many that came later, such as John Wayne’s Back to Bataan. But never forget the very real and common – and ubiquitous – Japanese atrocities, which they still are loathe to admit. Here, a small number of Americans are acting as a rear guard preventing the invading Japanese from driving south on Bataan in 1942. They have to blow a bridge and hold a ravine, and are subject to snipers, air attacks, and infantry assaults. It is superbly done with a great cast (Desi Arnaz was quite good too). Robert Taylor cast off forever his pretty boy image of the 1930’s with Garbo in his very tough portrayal of the sergeant.

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Lucy on the set of Bataan.

Most notably, Bataan stands out for perhaps the best and most violent hand-to-hand combat footage ever filmed, certainly the best of its era. Also, and often neglected in reviews, is that Bataan featured a fully INTEGRATED Army: a Jew, a black, an Hispanic, a Filipino, and so on. They were all treated equally and heroically. Bataan could not even be shown in parts of the South in the 1940’s due to this. Only two other movies of the WW II period featured a black fighting bravely – Sahara and Crash Dive, but none as well as here. Bataan is a marvelous film on many levels. A classic. Review by Kirasjeri from Brooklyn, New York for the IMDB.

Some promotional materials:

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High Wall, 1947, Is Playing on Friday, May 20 On TCM (USA)

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High Wall, 1947, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, at 1.15 p.m. est. I highly recommend this film.  Robert Taylor is playing totally against type as an injured war veteran who has a haematoma on his brain that is causing him to act irrationally.  This is so far from the glamorous Taylor we know and love and demonstrates his amazing range as an actor.

High Wall is a departure for Robert Taylor. In the 30’s he portrayed mostly handsome society boys. In 1941 he toughened up his image with Johnny Eager. This is an entirely different path. The lead character, Steven Kenet, has returned from a job flying freight in Asia after his service in WW II. He’s eager to see his wife and displeased to find out she has a job. Kenet is even more displeased when he discovers she is having an affair with her boss. To complicate matters, he has a brain injury and is suffering blackouts and other symptoms. Seeing his wife in her lover’s apartment triggers rage and violence. The wife is dead and Kenet is the only suspect. He confesses and is committed to a mental institution for psychiatric evaluation. The unique thing about the film to me is Taylor’s ability to play vulnerability. Kenet is neither a pretty boy nor a villain. He is a man in torment.

Taylor uses his shoulders beautifully to portray hopelessness. They droop in the scenes where the character is locked in solitary confinement. After his operation they are straight. The confusion on his face when he’s offered an opportunity to see his son at the hospital is masterful as he passes through a range of emotions moving from delight to doubt to anger to confusion. There is a remarkable sequence in which Kenet is dragged off after attacking a visitor. Taylor’s body positions change constantly–this is hardly the “wooden” acting for which he is so often condemned. Another great sequence is his walk up the stairs at the end to see his son. Kenet’s face radiates joy. The camera work is stylish and the chiaroscuro is masterful. This movie was apparently not well received in its time probably because it isn’t the “Robert Taylor” people expected and it is largely forgotten now. It deserves to be remembered. Review by me for the IMDb.

Some behind-the-scenes photos:

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