The Classic Movie Theaters of the 6ème Arrondissement

In light of the terrifying events in Paris yesterday, like the rest of the world I have been struggling with how to respond. I have deep ties to Paris, both personal and familial, and 2015 has been one of the city’s most terror-filled years in recent memory. Though all of my friends and relatives have responded to my inquiries and are, thankfully, unhurt, there are 127 families today who cannot say the same. The best way I can think of to fight the fear and shock of yesterday is to reiterate the love I have for Paris, and to tell of some of the wonderful cinematic moments that the city has given me.

In 2011, I spent 6 months in Paris as a student at the Institut Catholique de Paris. I was very excited to be there, but I wondered how I was going to get through 6 months with only the classic movies I had brought with me. I had managed to find a French version of Hold Back the Dawn (of all movies) at the DVD store in the Carrousel du Louvre, but other than that I was operating with the slim pickings that I could fit in my suitcase.

On my first day of class, my keen classic movie ear overheard a student talking about Casablanca across the room. I went over to contribute to the conversation, and the student mentioned that he had seen it in a theater in the 6th arrondissement and that this theater shows classic movies every night. Every night! He happened to have a flyer with him, and he gave it to me and told me I should check it out.

Well, check it out I did. That evening. Upon my arrival, I discovered that the theater in question was the Action Christine, tucked away on the tiny rue Christine near the Odéon metro stop. It has been a theater specializing in classic Hollywood since 1973, and is located inside a historic building with a carriage entrance from the 1600s. I was in love.

The movie they were playing that night was My Man Godfrey, and when I went to the ticket window, the woman on duty asked my age. I was 25 at the time, and the woman told me that guests under 26 get in for only 3 euros. So I filled out an application with some ID proving my age, and I got a discount card that let me in the theater for only 3 euros, each time I decided to come to the movies.

Needless to say, with a 3 euro price tag, I went nearly every evening. At the rue Christine I saw All About Eve, Tobacco Road, Leave Her to Heaven, It Happened One Night, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, A Star is Born, Mildred Pierce, and countless others. It became my ritual after school to head east on the metro and get off at Odéon, sometimes get a frozen yogurt up the street and then go to the Action Christine.

Shortly thereafter, I saw a flyer at the Action Christine advertising a movie theater on the rue de l’École de Medecine, just up the street. The next day, I went to check it out and it was another Action theater, also playing Hollywood classics! This one was called the Action Desperado, located just a few blocks from the school of medicine, after which the street was named.

For the rest of my time in Paris, I kept schedules for both the Action Christine and the Action Desperado displayed prominently in my apartment. Sitting in those tiny, darkened theaters, watching “my people” on the screen, I felt so happy and joy-filled that I couldn’t stay away. I started to get homesick around month 4, and I credit the classic movies at the Action Christine and Action Desperado for giving me that dose of home that I so desperately needed.

Today, the theaters still run the classics. Glancing at the schedule for the Action Christine (now called Christine 21, as the owners have changed), there seems to be a Marilyn Monroe theme today, with The Misfits, All About Eve, The Seven Year Itch, and Bus Stop playing in those two tiny theaters that I know so well. They’re also having showings of Bringing Up Baby, The Scarlet Empress, Duck Soup, and The Informer.

On some of the darkest days of our history, movies have had the power to lift us up and carry us to a different, more decent world. So if you’re in Paris today, on a day when you can expect to be overwhelmed with grief, sadness, and tragedy, go to one of these theaters and be transported, while at the same time giving love and support to one of the hidden cinematic treasures of the beautiful city that is Paris.

Maureen O’Hara, 1920-2015

Maureen O’Hara, whose subtle Irish beauty and fiery red hair made her a favorite of director John Ford, died yesterday in her sleep at 95. In recent years she had moved from her home in the south of Ireland to Boise, Idaho, to be with her family, and was continuing to make appearances as late as 2014, when she appeared at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival.

Born Maureen FitzSimons in the Dublin neighborhood of Ranelagh on August 17, 1920, Maureen had a few bit parts in 1938 before making her formal debut with her mentor Charles Laughton in Jamaica Inn in 1939, which was followed by The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and Dance, Girl, Dance (1940). In 1941, she played Angharad in How Green Was My Valley directed by John Ford, with whom she would go on to make 5 feature films and whom she would always name him as her favorite director.


With Walter Pidgeon in How Green Was My Valley (1941).

She became an American citizen in 1946, and raised issues with the naturalization documents that listed her as English instead of Irish. She successfully lobbied to have the documents changed, and it marked the first time in American history that an Irish person was declared a citizen of Ireland, independent of Great Britain. “It was one hell of a victory for me,” she later wrote, “because otherwise I would have had to turn down my American citizenship. I could not have accepted it with my former nationality being anything other than Irish, because no other nationality in the world was my own.”

Her bright red hair made Maureen a natural for Technicolor, and with John Ford directing, she made The Quiet Man with frequent co-star and long time friend John Wayne in 1952. In The Quiet Man, set in Ireland and filmed in Cong, County Mayo, Maureen was able to show the national pride for which she had fought so hard 6 years earlier, and was able to speak a bit of Irish Gaelic while the beautifully photographed Technicolor accentuated the Irish landscape.

In an interesting side note, the dialogue in this clip translates to a situation in which she had “sent her husband from her bed,” and was written in Irish Gaelic in order to avoid the censors.

She married several times, but the love of her life was Charles Blair, a pilot who died in a plane crash in 1978. She had one daughter, Bronwyn, with William Price, and in her last years lived with her grandson, Conor.


With daughter Bronwyn.

I was lucky enough to meet and spend time with Maureen O’Hara in 2011, while I was studying abroad in France and had the opportunity to travel to Ireland for the Maureen O’Hara Classic Film Festival, organized by several friends of mine and taking place near her home in Glengarriff, County Cork. The festival included showings of several Maureen O’Hara movies on the big screen, as well as a signing event where Maureen signed my copy of her book, ‘Tis Herself.


Because my friends organized the event, I had the great privilege to be invited to join Maureen for a chat in the hotel pub on the last night of the festival, where she joked, told stories, and was just as fiery and wonderful as I had hoped she would be.

This is a video made by my friend Sara, who helped to organize the festival and who showed this movie on the big screen with Maureen there. It moved Maureen to tears at the festival, and it now moves me to tears remembering her.

A Reminder: TRAILBLAZING WOMEN, Starting October 1 on TCM

Starting tomorrow and continuing through the month of October, TCM will partner with Women in Film Los Angeles to focus on the women behind the camera with their much-anticipated Trailblazing Women programming. Spanning from the earliest days of cinema to the present day, TCM and WIF will present a diverse array of viewing choices that highlight some of the most noteworthy films honoring women’s role in the shaping the history of Hollywood.

Co-hosted by film historian Cari Beauchamp (be sure to read her fascinating essay on Trailblazing Women here), actress Illeana Douglas, director Amy Heckerling and several other notable women in Hollywood, the series will kick off with early films of Lois Weber, Alice Guy-Blaché and Frances Marion, including a showing of the first film ever directed by a woman, Alice Guy-Blaché’s La Fée aux choux (1896).

La Fée aux choux (1896).

The full schedule can be found here. If you’re unsure what to look for, please be sure to read the editorial by my good friend, employee of Rotten Tomatoes and expert on women in film, Marya E. Gates. Marya has spent the past year watching solely films directed by women, and has written a thorough rundown of all the highlights of TCM’s programming.

The programming will air on Tuesdays and Thursdays in TCM’s prime time spots. In this era when women are still shockingly underpaid and undervalued in the industry, it is a key time to bring these issues to the forefront in a meaningful way, and this programming is the perfect way to do just that.

Frances Marion and Mary Pickford.

Research in France, Classic Movie Events and Upcoming TCM Programming

I am back in the United States after a wonderful August researching Marion Davies in France. The research is going well, and I did have some downtime to enjoy the country with a good friend, including several days in beautiful, rugged Corsica and tranquil northern Provence. I came back in late August, and am happy to be returning to blogging!

There are several classic movie events going on right now that I would like to touch on, and I would also like to give an update on what will be happening on TCM soon, an important special programming note for the month of October.

Cinecon, the oldest classic film festival in the country, wraps up today in Hollywood. This was its 51st year of showing rare movies from the archives, alongside a magnificent memorabilia dealer room that is worth the price of admission in itself.  Cinecon prides itself in the obscure and the unknown, so if you go to this festival, do not expect to celebrate your old standby classic stars. Instead, you will hear hearty cheers for such names as Ted Healy, Will Ryan, and Lynn Bari, names dear to those who often attend Cinecon every September. It takes place at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood over Labor Day weekend, and boasts a huge number of returnees each year–Cinecon is a true mecca for fans of the obscure.

While not specifically a classic film festival in itself, the Telluride Film Festival is happening this weekend in Telluride, CO. This is one of the preeminent film festivals in the United States, and this year is host to several classic film-related showings. Today is a showing of the new Swedish documentary Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words, screened at the Cannes Film Festival this year and making waves at film festivals internationally. Through letters, diaries, and interviews with her loved ones, the movie tells the story of one of the most captivating women in Hollywood (and one of the most controversial at the time of her stardom) on the 100th anniversary of the year of her birth. The festival is also screening Hitchcock/Truffaut, an interview with filmmakers regarding how François Truffaut’s 1966 book Cinema According to Hitchcock has had an impact on their individual styles.

In addition, I am sad to have missed most of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars programming during the month of August, but my friend Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film hosted a blogathon during the entire month of August that chronicled each day of Summer Under the Stars. Check out the blogathon entries and see how the month played out on TCM. Next month, however, I am looking forward to TCM’s look at the women who shaped the movies. Hosted by Ileana Douglas and co-hosted by such luminaries as writer Cari Beauchamp (the author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Early Hollywood) and director Alison Anders (director on Sex and the City and the movie Gas Food Lodging), the month will be filled with classic and contemporary movies made by women working behind the camera. It promises to be a fascinating look at an integral part of Hollywood that gets little attention, even today. The series begins October 1.

Two cinematic legends: star and producer Mary Pickford with her great friend, screenwriter Frances Marion.

Have a wonderful Labor Day, and see you next time!

SUMMER UNDER THE STARS BLOGATHON: Light in the Piazza (1962)


Olivia de Havilland and Yvette Mimieux in Light in the Piazza (1962).

Today’s Summer Under the Stars marathon focuses on two-time Academy Award winner, cinematic legend and all-around delightful human being Olivia de Havilland, who at age 99 is still living and enjoying life in Paris where she has made her home since the early 1950s. I have always been a fan of Olivia de Havilland’s, and when I looked at the schedule today to try to decide what to review, I found that I had seen all of the movies on the schedule except one. I came to the conclusion that since I had seen just about everything, I should review one of the more meaningful films on the schedule today, and decided on Light in the Piazza (1962).

I have always been fascinated by Light in the Piazza. Made in the days before there was a great deal of advocacy surrounding the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities, this love story about a young woman with an intellectual disability, her non-disabled boyfriend, and a mother’s advocacy and concern for her daughter is lightyears ahead of its time in many ways.

Olivia de Havilland plays Meg, a mother traveling in Italy with her 26-year-old daughter, Clara, whose mental development was stalled following an accident at age 10. Clara meets and falls in love with a handsome young Italian, Fabrizio, who is taken by what he perceives to be Clara’s simple naïveté. Meg wants to explain Clara’s condition to him and his family, but the moment never seems right and she worries about the family rejecting Clara. It becomes clear that she has been rejected several times when suitors find out about her age, and that Meg and her husband have made plans to put Clara in a special care home. Meg doesn’t like the idea of her daughter in such a place, and prefers that she be able to marry, if possible. But the husband is set on putting Clara in a home, so Meg tries to expedite Clara’s marriage to Fabrizio. When Fabrizio’s father sees Clara’s actual age on the wedding documents, he flees, taking Fabrizio with him. Meg is certain that he has a problem with Clara’s condition, but upon a visit by the father, it turns out that he is only concerned with the fact that Clara is older than his son. The issue is resolved, and the two marry.

The cast.

A bit of a saccharine ending, but still a forward-thinking piece on marriage rights for the disabled, and rights to live the life of an individual’s choosing. These are issues that still press the disabled community today, and to have a movie from 1962 highlighting these same issues much of a debate about the legitimacy of these rights, is truly something to think about.

It is perhaps fitting that Light in the Piazza, Olivia’s first movie after taking a 3 year hiatus to focus on raising her children, takes place in Europe and was filmed on location in Rome and Florence. The cast has a wonderfully international flavor to it, with Italian Rossano Brazzi playing Fabrizio’s father, and  Yvette Mimieux, an American-born actress with French and Mexican parents, playing Clara. Olivia de Havilland, born in Japan to British parents, was raised in California and had become a French citizen.


Olivia de Havilland in the south of France with her son, Benjamin Briggs Goodrich, in 1953.

On July 1, Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 99th birthday. I had the great honor to meet her in Paris in 2011, and she was exactly as I had hoped–warm and funny, with a voice like melted chocolate. Meeting her remains one of the highlights of my life, as her greatness in person met and exceeded her greatness onscreen.

Don’t miss Light in the Piazza this evening at 11:30 PST, and for all those on the East Coast, be sure to set your DVRs.

Thanks to Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film for hosting this blogathon!

Symbolism, Analysis, and the Cultural Relevance of THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947).

Rex Harrison as the ghost of a seaman haunting Gene Tierney’s cottage in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947).

TCM’s annual Summer Under the Stars programming is officially underway. During the month of August, TCM salutes a different star each day, marathoning that star’s movies and presenting features about the star’s work. This year’s lineup includes programming devoted to a wide range of stars–from megastars Katharine Hepburn and Vivien Leigh to lesser-known actors like Mae Clarke and Warren Oates.

Today was Gene Tierney day, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) was on the program. This is one film that rarely gets the analysis that I believe it warrants, as a film made just after one of the most destructive events in history. It is shot exquisitely, but underneath the film’s exterior lie dark and important themes.

Set in the early 1900s, the story mostly takes place in a cottage in an English seaside village, where Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) has taken up residence following the death of her husband, despite the objections of her mother and sister-in-law, and the fact that the cottage is said to be haunted. She lives there with her young daughter Anna (played by 10-year-old Natalie Wood, in the same year she made Miracle on 34th Street), and on the first night she is visited by the ghost of a sea captain by the name of Daniel Gregg. She comes to accept and acknowledge his presence, and after a series of events Daniel asks her to write his memoirs, with the royalties going to her. Over the course of writing the book, Lucy becomes attracted to Daniel and falls in love with him. The book becomes a bestseller, under the guidance of publisher Miles Fairley (the divine George Sanders), with whom she also falls in love. One night as Lucy is sleeping, Daniel comes to plant the idea in her mind that she had been dreaming him, and that Lucy wrote the book on her own, in order to allow her to forget him and pursue a relationship with Miles, which she does. After discovering that Miles is already married, she dejectedly returns home to live a solitary life. She becomes an old woman, and on the night of her death, Daniel returns to lift her spirit out of her body.

The movie is based on a 1945 novel by British author Josephine Leslie, and before its acquisition by 20th Century Fox, it had only been published in the UK. By the end of World War II in 1945, England had suffered devastating losses due to incessant German bombing and soldiers who fought the Axis powers abroad. The country was reeling as many women on the home front grappled with the reality that their husbands were not coming home, and were faced with the hardships of raising children alone. After the war ended, survivors and their families struggled with how to return to normalcy, how to regain as much as possible from their pre-war lives. A brilliant movie that touches on this subject from the American perspective with remarkable grace is The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), made one year earlier than The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, though it takes place at the turn of the 20th century, reflects the sentiments of the survivors of England’s involvement in World War II. Lucy Muir’s becoming enamored with a ghost represents post-World War II British society, a society with a desire to move forward into the future but unable to forget its past, the war as represented by the ghost of Daniel Gregg. The character of Miles Fairley appears as Lucy denies the existence of Daniel, and Miles turns out to be a fake, a character who looks appealing but hides unattractive secrets. Miles is a symbol for the fact that in order to have a future that is real and honest, the past must be acknowledged and respected. At the end as Lucy dies, she realizes that the path toward the future involves walking hand in hand with the past, never forgetting or denying what has happened as the future unfolds.

All throughout the movie, Lucy Muir takes great care to keep Daniel from Anna. “She is much too young to be seeing ghosts,” she tells him. But a scene toward the end shows Lucy Muir talking with her daughter, now grown up, as her daughter divulges that she, too, saw Daniel and was not afraid. This is a subtle message about talking to children about the past, and about war. Those concerned about children often keep them from hearing about the evils in the world, but The Ghost and Mrs. Muir makes a beautiful, subtle point that children are often not as vulnerable as we think they are.

This is a beautiful movie on many levels. The story is simple and easily understood, and the cinematography and lighting perfectly accentuate Gene Tierney’s porcelain features. But underneath the superficial beauty of the movie is a deep message that was relevant then and continues to be relevant now.

Be sure to go to the Summer Under the Stars site to keep up to date on all the wonderful programming this month. Olivia de Havilland day is tomorrow, August 2, so come back tomorrow for your daily dose of Olivia and a some personal stories (I met her in 2011).

See you tomorrow!

Treasure Trove of Silent Films Found in the UK

Mike Grant and his daughter Rachael were working at a recycling center in Sidmouth, Devon in the UK, when something unusual caught their eye. Next to an old tin of paint on an old shelving unit lay two 16mm film reels, discarded as junk along with the shelves and the paint. Upon further inspection, they discovered that these just weren’t any old junk film reels–these were films that dated back to 1909, and one of them was a reel of The Cardboard Lover (1928), a scarce Marion Davies film.

The Cardboard Lover, 1928.

The Cardboard Lover, 1928.

Halfway around the world, I became ecstatic when the story broke. The Cardboard Lover, a rarely seen gem, is one of Marion Davies’ all-time funniest films. It is available at UCLA and the Library of Congress, but the prints in both places are in desperate need of restoration. I have always bemoaned the fact that so few people have had a chance to see this delightful movie. Could this be an opportunity, I thought, for The Cardboard Lover to be restored and returned to its rightful place in the Marion Davies pantheon? As Marion’s current biographer, I could not have been more excited.

Upon further investigation into the discovery, it became clear that only one reel of The Cardboard Lover was found, thereby shattering my dreams of any significant restoration project from the newly found print. This is not to diminish, however, the significance of this find in Devon. In addition to the single reel of The Cardboard Lover, a print of the 1909 French film Jane is Unwilling to Work was found intact, as well as a 1910 Italian movie called Il Guanto.

These types of finds seem to have been increasing in recent years. In 2002, Colleen Moore’s final silent, Why Be Good?, was uncovered in the Cineteca Italiana. The story of how it was uncovered is a blog post unto itself, but suffice it to say that we now have a complete and restored version of Why Be Good?, thanks to the unparalleled knowledge of film aficionado Joe Yranski. The original Vitaphone sound disks, created to go with the film upon its original release, have been looped back into Why Be Good? and we now have the film as it was originally envisioned in 1929.

A clip from Why Be Good?, synced with the Vitaphone sound disks.

In 2008, Argentinian film historian Fernando Peña discovered a near-complete print of Fritz Lang’s epic sic-fi Metropolis (1927) in Argentina’s Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires. To add to his legacy among film fans, Peña made another startling find at the Museo del Cine in 2013, when he unearthed a 9.5mm print of Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith (1922).

Buster Keaton in The Blacksmith, a print of which was recently discovered at the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires.

Buster Keaton in The Blacksmith, a print of which was recently discovered at the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires.

The Library of Congress estimates that 75% of all silent films have been lost. It is a saddening idea that as films continue to age and deteriorate, that number is steadily increasing. But as long as people continue to search and discover in unlikely places, we can remain hopeful that some of these movies presumed lost aren’t quite so lost after all.