Summer of Paul: Sweet Bird of Youth

I decided about a month ago that I would start watching Paul Newman movies for fun this summer. I started with Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, at the suggestion of Erin at Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs, and then stumbled on to a list of Paul Newman movies on a movie site to sort of guide me.

I have a lot of catching up to do on this list and hope to get to as many of them as possible through August. So far this summer, I have watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Long Hot Summer, Paris Blues, and Sweet Bird of Youth. In the past, I have watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Exodus.

Up this week will be The Rack and The Hustler. The Husband wants me to watch The Hustler with him this weekend.

Before the summer ends, I hope to get to:

Cool Hand Luke (which I watched once many years ago),

Somebody Up There Likes Me

Rachel Rachel (which he directed and stars his wife Joan)

The Color of Money

Hud

Nobody’s Fool

The Sting

The Verdict

And the documentary series about him and his wife, Joan Woodward:

The Last Movie Stars

The documentary is on HBO Max, but I will have to get a subscription to watch it because we were sharing a subscription with someone, and they got rid of their subscription. We will see what can be done, but, man, a subscription to HBO Max is expensive now! Maybe they will have a sale.

I have digressed quite a bit here because I had planned for this post to be about Sweet Bird of Youth, which I watched a couple of weeks ago. This is yet another movie that Paul was in that was based on a Tennessee Williams play. I didn’t realize that Paul had been in more than one movie based on Williams’ plays until I started watching his movies this summer.

I had never heard of Sweet Bird of Youth before and for a movie made in 1962, it was quite dark and heavy and also seemed ahead of its time somehow. The acting was absolutely stellar all the way around. The overall story was gritty and raw, focusing on some serious issues, at least one of which I don’t want to share because it will be a spoiler. A couple of the issues I can mention are alcoholism, drug (pot) use, promiscuity, domestic abuse, power-hungry politicians, greed, and nepotism.

Paul’s shirt was off quite a few times in this movie, which wasn’t a bad thing to me but did drive my son nuts because every time he walked in the room, there was a shirtless Paul Newman.

“Just go back to watching your movie with that shirtless guy,” he told me one day to avoid discussing his need to eat healthier food (or maybe it was about his need to clean his room. I lose track of our discussions now that he is a teenager).

In addition to Paul, the movie starred Ed Begley (wow. His performance made me want to reach through the screen and slap him! Dang!), Shirley Knight (she was stunning and so perfect in that part), Rip Torn (didn’t even recognize him, he was so young), Geraldine Page, and Madeline Sherwood.

Here is a small description of the movie I found online: “After unsuccessfully trying his luck in Hollywood, charming gigolo Chance Wayne (Paul Newman) wanders back to his hometown, accompanied by Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page), a movie star on the wane. Chance quickly falls back into his old rut — he’s still smitten with his former sweetheart, Heavenly Finley (Shirley Knight), but her thuggish brother (Rip Torn) and her crooked politician father (Ed Begley) both hate him. When Alexandra leaves town, Chance is left with little more than trouble.”

I do recommend the movie, but I will warn you that it is not a happy Paul and some of the topics are a bit uncomfortable. I am not giving rankings to the movies I am watching but if I was, I’d give this one a five out of five.

Classic Movie Impressions: Blue Hawaii

I have been trading classic movie suggestions this summer with Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs.

The movies we have given our impressions of so far have been

A Streetcar Named Desire

Cat on A Hot Tin Roof

The Thin Man

Double Indemnity

On her blog today, Erin is discussing To Catch A Thief, a favorite Hitchcock film of mine. I am going to be discussing Blue Hawaii, as the blog post title suggests.

When Erin suggested this movie, I was fine with it because I was sure it would be fun and if nothing else, the music would be good. Because my mom was always a huge fan of Elvis I knew quite a bit about him from a music stand point but I’ve only seen clips of his acting.

I do believe I saw part of this movie years ago. I expected it be a pretty big Cheese Fest, but I didn’t mind. With the way the world’s been lately, watching something light and cheesy is fine with me.

And yeah, there was some cheese to it, but it was also much better than I expected. Plus, Elvis’ voice on Can’t Help Falling in Love With You totally reminded me why so many people loved his singing and not just those swinging hips.

My mom was a huge Elvis fan when she was a teenager. She was raised by a strict, stereotypical Southern father who declared he would not have any of his daughters screaming about some boy swinging his hips. So one night when my mom and her sisters and their aunt (who is only a year older than my mom) were watching him on The Ed Sullivan Show, my mom said they tried to be very calm and not scream when he came on screen.

The bad thing was that her aunt grabbed my mom’s knee, and my mom can’t stand anyone to touch her knee because she’s very ticklish. She screamed when my aunt grabbed her knee, which brought my grandfather’s stern response of, “I will not have anyone screaming for that boy in my house!” My mom did her best to explain to him what had happened, but I’m not sure he believed her.

He must not have been too upset by my mom’s scream, though, because he took my mom and her sisters to see Elvis at a local high school at some point after he was on The Ed Sullivan Show. If you knew how my grandfather was back then, this would surprise you. I know it surprised me.

Anyhow, I digress. Blue Hawaii is a simple film about Elvis who returns to the island of Hawaii after serving in the military. His parents want him to work for his father in the pineapple business, but he wants to make it on his own, which, of course, causes tension. His quest for independence allows several opportunities for him to croon 14 different songs throughout the 1 hr 41 minute movie.

I wasn’t expecting Elvis to be a very good actor and he wasn’t stellar, but he also wasn’t that bad. He was certainly better than many of the actors of today. His long, dark eyelashes and pouty lips certainly didn’t hurt his appearance on screen.

This movie also stars Angela Lansbury as his mother. She portrays an over-the-top Southern mother who likes to remind everyone how rich they are. She’s also fairly racist, which is illuded to but not explicitly shown. She’s not a huge fan of her son’s girlfriend, a native girl who is bi-racial — part Hawaiian and part French. The suggestion is that one reason she’s not impressed with the girl is her background, but that’s only subtly suggested because the movie is very light for the most part. Plus, all of that is put aside as the movie moves on and the attitude of Elvis’ mother changes toward the girlfriend and his effort to make a way on his own.

Speaking of  his girlfriend in the movie (Joan Blackman), according to Express, which is a UK publication, Elvis fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. He met her in 1958, before they filmed Blue Hawaii, and chased her and begged her to be in the movie with him.

Joan said: When we first set eyes on each other (in 1957), there was a spark, a magic in the air… There was just that special something between us, sometimes so warm and wonderful you could almost reach out and touch it.”

In 1977 she told a magazine that she and Elvis had adjoining hotel rooms during the filming of the movie and essentially lived together for weeks. Of course Elvis was dating Priscilla at the time and she and Joan looked a lot alike.

I should add that this Express magazine site looks a bit like a gossip site, so take all of this with a grain of salt.

Back to the movie, because I have digressed again.

I loved the music and scenery in this movie. I wouldn’t say the movie is a super accurate portrayal of what Hawaii is really like, but it doesn’t mock the natives of the islands and instead brings the viewers attention to some of the more interesting aspects of the islands’ diverse cultures.

I will say that according to this movie, Hawaii is a place where bare-chested men always ride the seas in little boats with a guitar so they can sing. I’ve never been there before so for those of you who have — is this true?!

If you are looking for a deep plot, this movie is definitely not what you want to watch. It’s essentially one big concert movie with very little plot. That, however, is exactly what I needed last week when I watched it.

Have you ever seen Blue Hawaii? What did you think of it?

Classic movie impression: Streetcar Name Desire

Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs and I, are trading classic movies this summer. She gives me a suggestion and I give her one and then we will write a post with our impressions of the movie we watched.

This week I suggested Double Indemnity for Erin (because I kid you not, I was about to suggest Key Largo and she was already going to watch it. We think along the same lines sometimes and sometimes we are totally on the opposite side of things. It makes life interesting. *wink*) and she suggested Streetcar Named Desire from 1951.

I have watched a couple of scenes from Streetcar Named Desire (Stella! Stella!!) but had never watched the entire movie. Erin is a huge fan of the young Marlon Brando, which is why she suggested this one. It is, as she said and I agree, one of his best.

His character is not “the best” of course. In fact, Stanley Kowalski is a complete jerk and Brando pulls it off amazingly well. His acting is flawless which may be because he was also playing the character on Broadway when they decided to film the movie, which is based on a play by Tennessee Williams.

In fact, everyone in the film, from what I’ve read, with the exception of Vivian Leigh who plays Blanch Dubois, was from the original play. Leigh was added to add more star power to the movie.

Brando was so natural and real in this – it was like I was watching a reality TV show in some ways and that’s not a good thing.

Vivian Leigh was apparently good at playing flirtatious women because here she was yet again needing attention from men just like in Gone with the Wind, where she played Scarlet.

It was awful to watch everyone, especially Stanley and Blanche, manipulate those around them, mainly Stella who wasn’t an angel but was really caught in the middle most of the time. I don’t want to give away anything for someone who hasn’t seen the movie (though it is over 50 years old, others could be like me and have never watched it), but watching Blanche pretty much falls apart more and more as she can’t keep her façade up is heartbreaking to watch. She creepily reminds me of a family member by marriage. She’s told so many lies she doesn’t know what reality is anymore.

I read after I watched the movie that the message of the play and the movie was that Blanche and Stella were both victims of societal pressures placed on them by men’s idea of how women should be treated in postwar America. Huh. Okay, we can go with that but I also felt like the sisters didn’t have a very warm upbringing, maybe from abusive homes, so that made them look for love and security in all the wrong places — mainly with men. Stella seems to suffer from the same issues abused women suffer from, which is the fear to leave their abusive spouse for a few reasons, including the fact they think no one else will want them. In Stella’s case, she also fell for Stanley’s good looks and the dangerous edge to his personality.

Whatever the theme and whatever the issues of the women, the acting was superb and focusing on the acting helped take my mind off the sobering subject matter of the movie.

If you are among the few that have not seen the movie, I do recommend it, but be aware the subject matter is dark and you are constantly worrying about what bad is going to happen next. To distract yourself from the tough subjects, do what I did and focus on the acting instead.