“Swing Time”

The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ musical Swing Time (1936) is this week’s film in my 2019 TCM Essentials movie watching project. Considered by many to be Astaire and Rogers’ finest picture (it was their sixth picture; they made 10 films together), it’s a total delight.

Directed by George Stevens with songs by the great songwriting team of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, this romantic musical comedy is as light and breezy as they come. Astaire plays Lucky, a gambler and dancer who is engaged to be married. When he gets cold feet and misses the wedding, his fiancé and her family give him a second chance to prove himself if he can earn $25,000 on his own. In the meantime, Lucky meets dance instructor Penny Carrol played by Ginger Rogers and I’m sure you can guess what happens next (hint: Lucky falls hard for Penny). The romance takes its twists and turns in between such great musical numbers as “Pick Yourself Up,” “A Fine Romance,” “Mr. Bojangles” (with a problematic blackface scene), and the unforgettable “The Way You Look Tonight.”

In The Essentials book, author Jeremy Arnold writes, “Fred Astaire was more than an actor, dancer, and singer. He was a master of the medium who had great control over the visual presentation of his films. That’s the reason he and Ginger are consistently framed full-figure, head-to-toe, as they dance, and why there are never any reaction shots of audiences and rarely any cuts at all during their numbers. Astaire knew that keeping us firmly and emotionally involved in the performance itself would have the greatest effect. As he once said, ‘Either the camera will dance or I will dance.'”

Here’s an example of the camera work described above with Fred and Ginger’s “The Last Dance” sequence from the film.

I loved watching Swing Time again and it brought back a lot of happy memories of watching Fred and Ginger movies with my dear mother who introduced me to many of these classic films in the first place. As TCM’s Robert Osborn said about Swing Time, “It’s such a joyful movie and it just makes you feel good, and anytime you’re down in the dumps all you have to do is put this movie on and you’ll feel better.”

My score: 5 out of 5 stars

I watched Swing Time on TCM. It is also available on Apple iTunes.

TCM The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold is available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.


“All Quiet on the Western Front”

Next up in my 2019 TCM Essentials movie watching project is the World War I film All Quiet on the Western Front (Universal, 1930).

Directed by Lewis Milestone and based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque, the film is one of the most famous and moving anti-war films ever made. Told from the perspective of the German experience in the war, the film gives a powerful message about war’s destruction and, more often than not, its futility.

In The Essentials book, author Jeremy Arnold states that the film’s battle scenes were “state-of-the-art for 1930.” Director Milestone used “tremendous movement, immediacy, and depth in every frame. Dramatic crane shots look astonishing for having been accomplished during a year in which most cameras were trapped in immobile, soundproof booths. Combined with the fluid camerawork are striking battlefield explosions, achieved by setting off dynamite remotely just before or after the actors ran by, with little room to spare.” Here’s an example.

Actor Lew Ayres, who was 20 years old when he made the film, leaves an indelible impression as Paul, a young soldier who enters the German World War I effort with youthful enthusiasm and who, after time in the trenches, learns of the true cost of the experience. Here’s a clip from the film where Paul returns during a leave to the place where he was recruited.

I found the film to be compelling, realistic, and tragic. It’s truly remarkable filmmaking about a truly devastating subject matter.

Here’s an early poster for the film.

My score: 5 out of 5 stars

I rented All Quiet on the Western Front from DVD.com. It is also available on Apple iTunes.

TCM The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold is available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.


Images ©️ Universal Pictures

“Now, Voyager”

Next up in my 2019 TCM Essentials movie watching project is the romantic melodrama Now, Voyager (Warner Bros., 1942). (I’m going a little out of order, but when a movie on the list presents itself, I’m watching it.)

Directed by Irving Rapper and starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, and Gladys Cooper, the film tells the story of a repressed and depressed spinster (Davis) who breaks free from her horribly controlling mother (Cooper) with the help of a kind psychiatrist (Rains) and then falls in love with a married man (Henreid).

Bette Davis undergoes quite a transformation in the film, with the help of her superior skills as an actress along with the outstanding makeup and wardrobe department at Warner Bros. When we first meet Charlotte (Bette’s character), she’s barely coping with having to live under the weight of her oppressive and icky mother (I’d dare say that this mother character is one of the worst mothers in all of moviedom).

The oppressed, repressed, and depressed Charlotte Vale (as played by Bette Davis in NOW, VOYAGER)

After a compassionate family member helps Charlotte get out of the house and spend some time in a sanitarium under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith, she emerges from her shell.

A post-therapy Charlotte Vale

Dr. Jaquith sends Charlotte on a cruise for a few weeks to continue her healing process, practice her new social skills, and relax before she has to return home and face her rotten mother (who, Dr. Jaquith reminds Charlotte, is still her mother).

On the cruise, Charlotte meets the charming architect Jerry Durrance, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage. They end up spending a lot of time together and ultimately fall in love, but they both know that the relationship is not going to work since Jerry has decided to stay married for the sake of his one and only child, his beloved daughter Tina. What happens to Charlotte, and what Charlotte decides to do, is what makes Now, Voyager such a special film (I don’t want to spoil anything, so hope you’ll watch it).

Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in NOW, VOYAGER

Jeremy Arnold states in The Essentials, “Underneath the surface lies a potent statement—especially resonant for female audiences of the time—about a woman making her own choices in life, including those that go against a conformist society’s expectations. Its one thing for Charlotte simply to escape her mother’s dominance; it’s quite another for her to choose a path to fulfillment that doesn’t include getting married and having kids.”

Here’s a trailer for the film.

Now, Voyager is truly one of the great films from Warner Bros.’ golden age and should definitely be essential viewing on your movie watching list, too.

My score: 5 out of 5 stars

I watched Now, Voyager on DVD. It is also available on Apple iTunes.

TCM The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold is available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.


Images ©️ Warner Bros.


The first film in my 2019 TCM Essentials movie watching project is the 1927 silent science fiction epic Metropolis. And what a film it is.

Made in Germany and directed by Fritz Lang, this remarkable and influential film is set in a segregated, dystopian future–one where wealthy citizens live a life of luxury above ground in an ultra-modern city and where a large group of hidden enslaved workers live underground to keep everything running. When one of the city’s rich kids learns about the plight of the underground workers, he and a woman from the underground plot a rebellion. However, the rich kid’s father and his employed evil scientist have something else in mind…

Above ground Metropolis
Underground Metropolis

The film is revered for its themes, art direction, and special effects–all of which are stunning. There have been multiple cuts of the film. I watched the 2010 version that I rented on Apple iTunes which includes 25 extra minutes of footage that was found in 2008 and considered by film scholars to be one of “the most important film discoveries in history” according to The Essentials author Jeremy Arnold.

Here’s a trailer for the 2010 restored version.

And here’s a cool poster for the film, too.

Metropolis is definitely worthy of its reputation—a monumental and astounding film that stands the test of time.

My score: 5 out of 5 stars

Metropolis is available on Blu-ray and on Apple iTunes.

TCM The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold is available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.


Images ©️ Kino International, Ufa