Banjo on my Knee (1936)

August 08, 2011

Banjo on my Knee is the story of a "land girl" played by Barbara Stanwyck who marries into a family of river dwellers. On her wedding night, some guy gets fresh with Stany, and her new groom, played by Joel McCrea, pushes the man overboard. When he doesn't immediately resurface, everyone assumes he's dead and Joel decides he has to go on the lamb and leave his new bride at home.

The cast is jam-packed with my favorite stars. Barbara Stanwyck is amazing as the lonely out-of-place newlywed, and her understated performance is spectacular as usual. Walter Brennan plays her father-in-law, a super sweet lovable old guy who plays folksy favorites on his "contraption," an instrument made out of old bottles and do-dads. And then there's Buddy Ebsen tap-dancing and singing along to the music. Oh, and singer Tony Martin makes an appearance as a restaurant entertainer, appearing in the credits as "Anthony Martin."

They all make up for Joel McCrea. Oh, Joel. He's one of my favorite actors, but by golly do I despise him in this movie!!! He's such a hot-headed mess; insanely jealous and abusive. I've seen this movie a dozen times, and each time I hate his character even more. The worst part is that I don't think you're supposed to hate him! The movie is definitely structured to make you root for Stany & Joel getting together in the end, but I guess my modern mind makes me wish she could escape the inevitable abusive relationship she's getting herself into.

The absolute *best* part of this movie, hands down, is the music. It's not quite a musical, more like a drama with some musical numbers thrown in (and they all seem to fit, not like people just randomly burst out into song in mid-sentence.) And Barbara Stanwyck did her own singing! I wish she did this more often, because she had such a unique, beautiful voice.

The Long Dark Hall (1951)

August 01, 2011

Last night I re-watched The Long Dark Hall, a great early 50's British mystery starring Rex Harrison and his wife at the time, Lili Palmer. It's a fantastic courtroom drama, where family man Rex is wrongly accused of murdering his mistress (okay, so he was only sort-of a family man) while the real killer still lurks about. I love that you know right from the beginning who the real killer is. The suspense isn't in the "whodunnit" but in wondering whether or not an innocent man will be sentenced to death for a murder he didn't commit, and if the real killer will strike again.

There's one thing, though, that makes the casting of this movie kind of odd. In 1948, Rex Harrison's girlfriend, actress Carole Landis, committed suicide while he was married to Lili Palmer. His involvement in her death -- mainly speculation over whether or not he had anything to do it, and whether he had destroyed a suicide note she had addressed to him -- created a media frenzy at the time. I haven't read into the scandal much more than the quick wikipedia glance, but I can imagine that recreating a similar storyline in a movie only 3 years later with his offscreen wife playing his spouse in the movie, must have been incredibly eerie! Knowing the backstory definitely makes you see Lili Palmer's performance in a whole new light, too.