Note: This is a regular monthly feature, highlighting, well, the highlights on Turner Classics' schedule. Why? Simple. Because Turner Classics remains a veritible college education in film.
Tall, handsome and incredibly companionable, Rosalind Russell is worth staying home for.
For an entire month.
Well, ok, maybe not the entire month of July, but certainly every Tuesday in July.
Turner will be airing 36 Russell titles on five consecutive Tuesdays, through July 29th, starting today at 8 p.m. (est) with back-to-back showings of three of her most famous films - Howard Hawks' "His Girl Friday" (1940), "George Cukor's "The Women" (1939) and Alexander Hall's "My Sister Eileen" (1942).
But just as good are two lesser-known titles that are part of the opening night line-up - William Keighley's dark, edgy comedy-drama about the allure of celebrity, "No Time for Comedy" (1940), based on the S.N. Behrman play and co-starring a very good Jimmy Stewart in one of his rare, unlikable characterizations, and Michael Curtiz's breezy "Four's a Crowd" (1938), a socialite comedy/newsman flick in which Roz, Errol Flynn, Olivia DeHaviland and Patric Knowles are clearly having a ball.
Trivia alert: Russell and Knowles would team up again 20 years later in the film of "Auntie Mame."
Curtiz would also directed Roz in the still-largely-undiscovered little gem of 1945, "Roughly Speaking," which, based on Louise Randall Pierson's decades-spanning, best-selling autobiography, provided the actress with one of her earliest and more nuanced feminist roles. Here, she plays a strong woman who happens to be an ordinary woman - a wife and mother devoted to her family. And to her second husband.
What's singular about "Roughly Speaking" is that it is as funny and progressive as it is affecting and heartwarming - and also that it features the inestimable Jack Carson in one of his best - and best-acted - roles of his long, varied and sadly underappreciated career. Here, he plays Russell's second husband, a dreamer who marries a divorced woman with four children.
Worth checking out. Worth taping.
We'll be looking more at Roz as the month goes on.
Before getting into the red-white-and-blue of the Fourth of July holiday, Turner will serve up the black-and-blue psychodramas/thrillers of none other than Alfred Hitchcock, starting July 4th at 7:30 with "Notorious," followed by "Shadow of a Doubt," "Psycho," "Vertigo," "The Birds" and "Rear Window" (and in that order).
Then it strikes up the band with an 8 p.m. screening of "Meredith Willson's The Music Man" (for me the most natural and organic of all screen musicals), followed by "1776," 'Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "On the Town."
A good reason to stay home all day - and all night.
Turner broadcasts two hard-to see titles on Wednesday, July 9th - Stanley Donen's "Surprise Package" (1960), starring Yul Brynner, Mitzi Gaynor and Noel Coward at 12 noon (est) and George Marshall's "Cry for Happy" (1961) with Glenn Ford, Donald O'Connor, James Shigeta and Miyoshi Umeki, at 3:45 p.m. (est).
"Surprise Package" was one of two films - the other being David Miller's "Happy Anniversary" (1959) - that Gaynor made on the heels of her popularity in Joshua Logan's "South Pacific" (1958).
She reportedly was also up for the role of Sugar in Billy Wilder's "Some Like it Hot" (1959) but Marilyn got that one and, Gaynor eventually gave up film work to concentrate on her successful nightclub act.
In between "Surprise Package" and "Cry for Happy," TCM has slotted a 1:45 p.m. (est) showing of George Sidney's hilarious "Who Was That Lady?" (1960) with Dean Martin, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Have fun!
Meanwhile, "The Happening," Elliot Silverstein's terminally silly 1967 counter-culture take on O'Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief," airs on Thursday, July 10th at 4:45 p.m. (est). Not to be confused with M. Night Shyamalan's current "The Happening," which achieves the seemingly impossible accomplisment of being even sillier.
An MGM dancical that has become increasingly difficult to see pops up on Turner at 10:30 a.m. (est) on Friday, July 11th - Charles Walters' charming, if occasionally arch 1955 take on the "Cinderella" legend, "The Glass Slipper." Leslie Caron stars as Ella and she and Michael Wilding (or his stand-in) are put through some lovely paces courtesy of Roland Petit's arty choreography. Check out his intricate "Kitchen Ballet."
So far, there's no indication that "The Glass Slipper" will be aired letterboxed. (Was it ever in 'scope?)
Airing later that night, at 8 p.m. (est), is Alex March's "Paper Lion," in which then-newbie Alan Alda impersonates George Plympton and his pro football pretentions. March's odd work (is it a movie or a training film?) was oddly popular in 1968, hugely popular.
We'll see if it is still odd or was just ahead of its time.
Odd is also the word for Woody Allen's "Interiors" (1978), slated for a 3:45 a.m. (est) screening on Monday, March 14th. Allen does his own impersonation here, taking a rather direct stab at Ingmar Bergman.
Late night is exactly where it belongs.
And pencil in these: Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (1959) at 11 p.m. on March 14th; Hitch's "Family Plot" ((1976) at 4 a.m. (est) Tuesday, July 15th, followed by Billy Wilder's acedic "Ace in a Hole" (1951) at 6:15 a.m.).
And when Turner Classics broadcasts George Sidney's "Pal Joey" (1957) at 4:30 p.m., also on July 15th, take note of the character-actor-with-the-huge-mug playing Mike, the owner of the Barbary Coast Club where Sinatra sings. He's Hank Henry, a name who will be forever beloved of soft-core aficionados for his title role in W. Merle Connell's 1960 "nudie" flick, "Not Tonight, Henry!," once oh so notorious.
The Curious Mystery of the Dubbed Voice...
Once upon a time, a little unknown named Kathy Sheldon, struggling to make ends meet in Hollywood during the silent era, was brought in by Monumental Pictures, to dub in the voice of movie queen Lina Lamont in its first singing talkie, "The Dueling Cavalier."
Which brings us to ... "Everything's Ducky"?
Don Taylor, the affable actor who played the groom opposite Elizabeth Taylor in Vincente Minnelli's "Father of the Bride" (1950), directed a few episodes of TV series before making his inauspicious big-screen directorial debut with "Everything's Ducky," a 1961 Columbia comedy about two sailors (Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett) and a talking duck.
"Everything's Ducky," airing on July 9th at 5:45 p.m. (est), also marked the film debut of the charming singer Joanie Sommers, one of two films that Sommers would make.
Sommers had a distinctive speaking and singing voice - soft, velvety, with a slight tomboyish pull to it. She is perhaps best-known for her hit version of the song "One Boy" from the play and film, "Bye Bye Birdie."
So if you happen to catch Turner's screening of "Everything's Ducky" and wonder why Sommers doesn't sound like herself, it's because, for some bizarre reason, Taylor (or someone) decided to completely re-record her dialogue using another actress's voice. They even dubbed over Sommers' giggles in the film. It's an insane conceit - akin to replacing the singular voice of, say, Debra Winger or Zooey Deschanel.
The incident was covered in a few column items back in '61 but, like the film itself, it was soon forgotten. It was never revealed who dubbed Joanie Sommers in "Everything's Ducky," although it later camer out that Walker Edmiston provided the voice of the duck.
Shades of "Singin' in the Rain." But real.
This wasn't the first time that a studio did something drastic with an actress' voice. When Ingrid Thulin's voice in Minnelli's 1962 version of "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" was considered too thick and indecipherable for the average American moviegoer, Metro recruited Angela Lansbury to read all her lines.
But at least, Thulin was already an establish actress - at least, in Europe.
But Sommers was brand-new to acting. And so was Jacqueline Bisset, who had one of more memorable early screen roles in Stanley Donen's "Two for the Road" (1967) and her voice, also very familiar, was dubbed. (Word is that Donen actually needed Bisset to reloop her dialogue but, as she was already off, working on another film, and unavailable, another actress was brought in, also never identified.)
I personally find all this distracting and disturbing. I mean, a person's voice is a big part of his or her performance - nay, it's 100% of the performance. I don't know how it can be easily replaced.
Is any artistic excuse legitimate?
Most disturbing of all is what director Hugh Hudson (strangely silent lately, but not missed by me) and what he did to Andie MacDowell in her first screen role in his "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984). He took MacDowell's charming, enticing twang and replaced it with the dull patrician tones of Glenn Close. His decision was never explained.
And neither MacDowell nor Close has ever discussed it, although I spent most of my career as a working critic dying to ask Close exactly why one actress would do that to another.
Hudson's dubious decision could have derailed MacDowell's acting career and ruined her reputation. Luckily, it didn't. She flourished in some very good films ("Groundhog Day," "Unstrung Heroes," "The Muse," "The End of Violence," "Green Card" and, yes, "Four Weddings and a Funeral").
Hudson, meanwhile, hasn't made a film in eight years.
Getting back to Sommers, she made out much better in her second film, 1964's "The Lively Set," with James Darren and Pamela Tiffin.
Director Jack Arnold, always a pro, was smart enough to retain her seductive purr.
(Artwork: Turner Classic celebrates Rosalind Russell in "Four's a Crowd," co-starring Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHaviland, and "Roughly Speaking," opposite Donald Woods as the first husband who leaves her and their kids and the great, underappreciated Jack Carson as her second, who takes up the slack; The poster art for the All-American musical, "Meredith Willson's The Music Man"; Caron and Wilding in Walters' "The Glass Slipper," Hollywood tackled/exposed the dubbing process in "Singin' in the Rain")