Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dear Old Dad: A Father's Day Tribute

For the first time in many a year my family did not get together for Father's Day today. While that was fine with me (dad gets a chance to relax at home in peace and quiet and I get some much needed work done) I have to admit that something is missing. While puttering around the homestead, I began to recall with fondness my father's charmingly grumpy ways. How he would complain each weekend while I was growing up that we had spent all his cash, the way he would become exasperated should one of us (most likely me) bring up any serious or shall we say unpleasant subjects right as he walked in the door. Didn't I know better than that? All dad wanted to do when he got home from work was to stand against the kitchen counter drinking a Johnny Walker on the rocks with a splash, not be hounded by the fools of women he was surrounded by. Lost in a dead end along memory lane, I became sentimental for times past and for the joy that an afternoon with dear old dad could bring. It occurs to me that plenty of families cannot get together for so important an occasion as Father's Day, so in case you are feeling as I do, I suggest that in honor of fathers everywhere, we have a double feature movie night.

As we all know, fathers have a special gift for exasperation. That look of persecution when the home front becomes too unmanageable, the tendency to retreat into the study or garage or wherever they hole up when they're trying to get away from it all, and, of course, the grin they give one when teased about these very things.

The first film must be Life with Father (1947). Starring William Powell and Irene Dunne with wonderful supporting roles played by Elizabeth Taylor and Zazu Pitts, the film shows how a strongwilled businessman and father loses control of his household when his wife and four sons take over. You'll feel right at home watching Powell carry on about household bills, house guests, and the role of the church, not to mention missionaries, young girls, and the purveyors of patent medicines.

Father of the Bride, please, not the Steve Martin remake, but the 1950 original with Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, and Elizabeth Taylor. Told in flashback voiceover by exasperated father supreme Spencer Tracy, the story is about the personal inconvenience to a father's household kingdom when his daughter decides to marry. The way he carries on, you'd think she did it just to spite him!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

New York in the Summertime

It’s been so damned hot here the last couple of days that I find myself thinking back longingly to the brief moment of June gloom we had just a couple of weeks ago. I feel cheated; I’m not ready for summer yet. I still need that last bit of cool weather before going into summer mole mode where I hide in darkened, air conditioned spaces and eat only cold foods, leaving the house only at night. I don’t know what to do with myself. When it’s this hot, most people go to a movie theatre and sit in the darkened caverns of full blast a/c with everyone else, but a quick glance at the newspaper has reminded me why I don’t go out to see movies more often. There’s just nothing out right now that I would willingly pay $9+parking to see and everything else that requires leaving the house just sounds too hot. My only trip outside today (a long walk) was a mistake. At 8 am it was already a million degrees and I arrived home melted, headachy, and crabby. So my answer to the 100+ degree heat is to barricade myself in the only room in the house equipped with air conditioning and watch movies, read, and dose with the cat. I suppose it would be comforting to watch movies with wintry themes requiring snow and frost, but seeing all those actors bundled up against the bitter cold makes me hot! I keep thinking, “What are they, crazy? Aren’t they hot?” I think the heat has begun to affect my brain since I can no longer tell the difference between real life and movies. I’ve decided to watch movies about people who look as hot and miserable as I feel or would feel if I were interested in braving the searing heat outdoors. So I have devised a sweaty summer movie night or several movie nights depending on your attention span and whether or not the weather breaks.

For whatever reason some of the best movies about being miserably hot in the summertime also happen to be set in New York in the fifties so I have chosen the following films:

Rear Window (1954) Taking place entirely in a small New York apartment in summertime, Rear Window is about professional photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries (James Stewart) who breaks his leg while getting an action shot at an auto race. With nothing else to do, Jeff wiles away the hours observing his neighbors, a lonely spinster, a ballet dancer and her beaux, a composer. When he notices that the nagging wife who lives across from him suddenly disappears, he begins to suspect that her gruff husband (Raymond Burr) may have murdered her. Jeff enlists the help of his high society girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) to investigate.

My Sister Eileen (1955) Ruth (Betty Garrett) and her beautiful sister Eileen (Janet Leigh) come to New York's Greenwich Village from small town Ohio looking for "fame, fortune and a 'For Rent' sign on Barrow Street." From their stifling basement apartment they encounter artists, bohemians, and players of all kinds, but fame and fortune are nowhere to be found. Also starring Jack Lemmon, Bob Fosse, and Dick York.

The Seven Year Itch (1955) Publishing exec Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) sends his wife and son to the country for the summer while he stays home, virtuously working in the New York heat. Though reveling in his temporary freedom, Richard has resolved not to carouse and philander like other men in his situation, but his already active imagination goes into overdrive when a beautiful blonde actress (Marilyn Monroe) moves in upstairs.

Bells Are Ringing (1960) Judy Holiday, Dean Martin, Jean Stapleton, Eddie Foy, Jr., Frank Gorshin, and every character actor you’ve ever seen in a 1950s movie. Ella Peterson is a switchboard operator at “Susanswerphone,” an answering service for busy New Yorkers. A good-natured busybody, Ella makes up for being painfully shy in her personal life by trying to improve the lives of the service’s subscribers. After a series of misadventures which bring her in contact with the police, the mob, and the purveyors of high culture, Ella finds love with a crooning playwright.