I saw Niagara on TCM recently and found out that producers first envisioned this as more of a standard film noir, but once Marilyn Monroe’s considerable charms became apparent, they built up her character considerably. This early breakout role showed that she could deliver a strong dramatic performance.
The camera obviously loves Monroe in this thriller about a cheating wife and her unstable husband (Joseph Cotten) vacationing in Niagara Falls. A likeable but unsuspecting couple on their honeymoon becomes involved in Monroe’s and Cotten’s tumultuous lives and the deadly events that take place in the spectacular setting of the Falls.
Niagara will air later this summer on TCM as part of their Battle of the Blondes series. Staff created lists of other noir films of the 1940s and 1950s — check them out!
The Heiress (1949)
Olivia de Havilland, ever luminous even in this role as a plain, shy, and somewhat socially inept heiress in mid-1800s New York, experiences romance with handsome and cultured Montgomery Clift. This wonderful actress shows us a personality shift–most noticeable to me in her voice–as she grows in realization of the painful forces at work in her relationships. The emotional punch of this 1949 film becomes most fully realized in the unforgettable final scene. The top notch cast also includes Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins. Read the 1881 book by Henry James, Washington Square.
For more on the film, check out the 1949 review from The New York Times and a film article on the Turner Classic Movie website.
Elf (2003) PG
I just watched this sweet-natured Will Ferrell holiday movie. He stars as Buddy, a 30-year-old, who, as an infant at an orphanage, crawled into Santa’s bag and soon arrived at the North Pole. Elf Bob Newhart raises him. Buddy learns of his true human-ness and sets off in search of his human dad (James Caan), who seriously needs some Christmas spirit. Buddy has fun elf-adventures along the way.
It ends pretty much as you think it will—all the more reason you and any kids watching will enjoy this one (though note the PG rating). Zooey Deschanel has a lovely part (and a lovely voice) as Buddy’s romantic interest.
21 by Adele (2011)
IMHO, this young British singer/songwriter outdoes her debut album with this new effort. Powerful yet nuanced, hard-hearted yet tender, raw yet refined, “in-your-face” yet intimate, she blows me away with her evocative vocals.
I have heard her studio as well as unplugged versions of a couple of these tunes, and she gets air play on alternative, contemporary, and soft rock stations. This woman’s talent has wide-ranging appeal; I can’t avoid a clichéd comment: a-ma-zing.
The King’s Speech (2010) R
This four time Oscar winner depicts a reluctant King George VI, tormented by a stammer that seriously undermines his confidence, at the dawn of World War II. Assisted by a speech therapist who gradually becomes his unlikely friend, as well as his loving wife, Queen Elizabeth (we knew her as the Queen Mother), the king finds the courage that inspires and leads the British people through this most trying time.
The movie delivers several wonderful performances, especially Colin Firth’s King. His agony each time he speaks publicly or faces a radio microphone seems palpable (Firth discusses his stammer).
An absolute gem.
The Enchanted Cottage (1945)
Watch the transforming power of love personified in this lovely, gentle romantic drama set in the WWII era. Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young play a plain, lonely young woman and an outgoing—later injured—pilot. They come to terms, in a manner of speaking, with their appearances as they grow to know and love each other after meeting at what some would describe as an enchanted cottage by the sea.
The Shop around the Corner (1940)
I list this among my top holiday movies, but you’ll enjoy it any time of year. James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan delightfully embody employees at a Budapest gift shop circa 1940; they can barely tolerate each other but have unknowingly carried on a romantic pen pal correspondence. Supporting actors also do memorable work. This charming comedy has sweetness, wit, warmth, a bit of sassiness, and extremely likeable characters. I adore this film.
Other versions include In the Good Old Summertime (1949) and You’ve Got Mail (1998). Also check out Slate’s comparison of The Shop around the Corner to Stewart’s other Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.
I Dreamed a Dream by Susan Boyle (2009)
Media sensation Susan Boyle apparently hasn’t yet decided on a style. However, this hodgepodge first album probably won’t disappoint fans. Her expressive voice transcends the lush orchestration of the star-making “I Dreamed a Dream” while the elegance of just her voice and piano in her version of the Monkees’ (you read that right) “Daydream Believer” redefines “mellow.” She also includes an unexpectedly effective version of “Wild Horses” (the Stones). However, I most enjoyed Ms. Boyle’s “Cry Me a River,” with its slow and sensuous interpretation of the jazzy standard. IMHO, she has all the makings of a jazz chanteuse. Wow! This lady can sing.
19 by Adele (2008)
I first heard her hit “Chasing Pavements,” then watched her accomplished performance at the Grammy awards. (She won two.) This delicious album by the young British singer Adele has a style that ranges from bluesy to jazzy with some pop garnishes. Her nuanced delivery of songs in a powerful yet sultry and edgy voice really impresses, as does her stunning songwriting capability.
My favorite recipes in this cookbook: “Chasing Pavements,” “Right as Rain” and “Cold Shoulder.”
The Set-Up (1949)
This well-crafted boxing film stars Robert Ryan as a veteran boxer who dreams of the Big Win. Little does he know that his manager, who has no faith in his chances, has set him up for a fall this night. While his worried wife—who has come to his previous bouts-—instead waits in their nearby hotel room for him, he prepares for his fight with an up-and-comer. The sometimes brutal film action occurs in real time. I found the scenes between boxers preparing for their fights psychologically revealing.
Read The New York Times review or check out other boxing movies at the library.