As a brand new member, I am so happy to participate for the first time in the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s Spring Blogathon, celebrating the theme “Classics for Comfort.” This certainly couldn’t have come at a better time, with the world seemingly turned upside down thanks to Covid-19. It seems like a very natural reaction to revert back to those fuzzy warm blanket-like things that make us feel safe and about 10 years old again; before bills became a reality, monsters changed their address from storybooks to the daily news, and unstoppable diseases wreaked havoc on our global population, economy, and psyche.
For me, that fuzzy comfort blanket is a giant bowl of rigatoni bolognese and classic films. Five of my favorite comforting movie classics are as follows:
Desk Set (1957)
There is no onscreen friendship that is more comforting in its warmth and naturalness than that of Desk Set‘s Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) and Peg Costello (Joan Blondell), two intelligent single ladies working in the research department of a large company, who snort when they laugh together (which is often) and share their dreams and relationship advice. When a giant computer threatens to steal their jobs, Bunny, Peg, and the other ladies in the department vow to outwit it…while also making time for boozy office Christmas parties and workplace romances with the likes of Gig Young and Spencer Tracy (my favorite Hepburn/Tracy pairing).
Desk Set boasts an incredibly clever script (by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, parents of Nora), filled with memorable quotes and one liners, delivered with perfect comedic timing by Hepburn, Blondell, and Tracy, especially. The film is genuinely hilarious and you get the sense that the actors enjoyed the experience, too. The scene going to and in Bunny’s apartment with Hepburn, Blondell, Tracy, Young, a crowded car, some bathrobes, a rainy night, a faulty kitchen ventilator, and floating island, the most intriguingly named dessert ever, is one of my favorite scenes in film history.
I love that Desk Set both celebrates smart, “career gals” and makes working in an office building look just plain fun. I will leave you with the office motto, quoted by their babe of a boss Gig Young:
“Always a pleasure to see your freshly scrubbed, smiling faces. Remember our motto: Be on time, do your work, be down in the bar at 5:30.”
Auntie Mame (1958)
Orphaned Patrick Dennis goes to live with his eccentric and free-spirited Auntie Mame (Rosalind Russell) and feels the pull between her carefree and fun lifestyle and a normal, expected one, encouraged by the stuffy executor of his parents’ estate. As he grows, changes, makes bad choices and good ones, his aunt loves him unconditionally. What’s more comforting than that?
I love the book this is based on (Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by the ridiculously witty and fabulous author Patrick Dennis, a pseudonym); it’s hard to replicate a sense of humor and capture an author’s voice, but somehow the film managed it expertly. It is heartwarming and hilarious, colorful and lively, joyful and sad. There is no question that Roz Russell is the main reason to watch as she plays the loving but eccentric Mame to perfection. The excellent script and set design doesn’t hurt either.
In Search of the Castaways (1962)
Any film that reminds me of my dad is a film that brings a measure of comfort. In Search of the Castaways was one we watched together often when I was a child. Maybe because it’s the story of a daughter who just wants to see her dad again that makes it seem more relevant and poignant; either way, both the heart and the sheer excitement still hold up.
From the story by Jules Verne, Mary Grant (Hayley Mills) and her brother Robert (Keith Hamshere) assisted by the unflappably optimistic Prof. Paganel (Maurice Chevalier), sneak aboard the ship of stuffy Lord Glenarven (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and his son John (he of the wry smile, my childhood crush Michael Anderson Jr.). The professor had found a note in a bottle from the children’s father, a captain of one of Glenarven’s ships, who had mysteriously disappeared along with ship and crew. After convincing the Glenarvens to help them search for Captain Grant, the group embarks on a quest full of danger and adventure. Though many of the events are outlandish, even cheesy, they are delightfully so and the film is so genuinely exciting that those bits are easily forgiven. Along the way they encounter friends and foes, played expertly by actors like George Sanders, Antonio Cifariello, and Wilfrid Brambell. I still remember my dad’s impressions of the latter (he did and I do delight in Brambell’s character in the film, the so-crazy-he’s-smart Bill Gay). This film is hope, optimism, and perseverance in an hour and a half.
In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
In the Good Old Summertime is warm, sweet, and delightful fare, akin to a hot chocolate on a snowy day. Andrew (Van Johnson) and Veronica (Judy Garland) are two co-workers in a music shop who despise each other in person, while simultaneously falling in love with each other through an anonymous pen-pal correspondence.
The story is charming and its fun to watch their dual relationship begin to intersect and merge. Garland and Johnson are an adorable and sympathetic pair with enough fire to make their arguments believable and enough sweetness to do the same for their romance.
With fantastic musical numbers by Judy and sublime supporters Buster Keaton, Spring Byington, and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall providing the additional comedy relief, this film is a treat over and over again.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
If I had to pick my all-time favorite classic film, there’s a very good chance it would be Bringing Up Baby. It’s the film I credit as the door that led me into the magical munchkin land of classic films; my VHS tape shows the wear and tear to prove it. I don’t only love it for reasons of longevity, but because it’s completely bizarre, hilarious, and delightful and there is something truly comforting in a film that embraces its own wackiness.
Buttoned up Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) is trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, but keeps bumping into flighty Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), an heiress who has taken a shine to him and will go to any lengths to keep him in her sphere, much to his chagrin. When David finds out that Susan has connections with the very people who he’s trying to obtain the money from, he gets swept along on a series of misadventures that include pet leopards who loves being serenaded, dogs who covet rare dinosaur bones, some light crossdressing, a few minor crimes, and a slew of misunderstandings. The film has numerous quirky twists and turns, but somehow they all seem to work together without becoming confusing or overwhelming. The dynamic and completely scene stealing supporting cast add fuel to an already crackling fire.
The combination of Cary Grant as a bespectacled nerd with a hot bod and a delightfully willful and scatterbrained Katharine Hepburn who wants that bod is dynamite. The pratfalls and high octane antics in this film seems to have been fueled by a case of Red Bull. That Hepburn is unafraid to match Grant in the physical comedy arena is one of my favorite things about their pairing and this film. The two bring out an energy and a spark in each other that is completely unique and yes, comforting, in all of their films but especially this one.
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