Friday, May 7, 2010

For the Weekend: Mothers of All Kinds

As I said on Monday, it's Mother's Day in two days.  So, as another helpful reminder so you don't forget to show your mom how much you love her, this weekend's selection of films for you is all about, you guessed it - mothers!

The first mom up is Ginger Rogers in 1939's "Bachelor Mother."  In this lighthearted romantic comedy, Rogers plays a single shop girl who finds an abandoned baby on a doorstep and is mistaken for the child's mother, unable to convince anyone otherwise.  While stuck with her sudden motherhood, though, David Niven, the son of the owner of the store she works at, tries to help her out.  And, of course, this only leads to love between the two.  "Bachelor Mother" was the beginning of Rogers focus on a movie career outside of the Fred-and-Ginger pairing.  In only six years, Rogers and Astaire had made 11 films together, the last one being "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" (also in 1939).  They both had wanted to venture into separate careers for awhile.  After "Castle," they were finally granted their wish.  (They would team up only one more time for "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949).)  Rogers was a little bit nervous about starting out with a story about child abandonment, having understandable reservations.  But luckily, the producer convinced her that no one would be presented as a monster, only truly warm and humane, something her fans would love.  And it worked, I must say.  You can watch this delight on TCM Sunday at 6:30am EST.

The next mother of the day - Bette Davis in "The Catered Affair" (1956).  Based on a television play by Paddy Chayefsky, Davis stars as a poor Brooklyn mom who, after her daughter (Debbie Reynolds) gets engaged, tries to plan the elaborate wedding Davis never got to have, despite the fact that they (her and hubby Ernest Borgnine) can't afford it and her daughter doesn't want it.  Davis does a wonderful job "slumming down" to a working-class mother of two.  She wanted to get the character so right that she spent time in Brooklyn with real Irish-American mothers to catch their mannerisms.  Davis was such a pro that she even took time to mentor Ray Stricklyn, the young actor playing her son, teaching him the ins and outs of show business.  When director Richard Brooks became frustrated with Reynolds (she had been the studio's choice, not his), she used her downtime to rehearse with Reynolds, who was only a musical actor at that point.  It paid off because Reynolds received wonderful reviews and won the National Board of Review's award for Best Supporting Actress.  And when Borgnine won his Oscar for "Marty" during filming, she was especially delighted with her costar, more than she already had been.  You can catch "The Catered Affair" on TCM Sunday at 11:30am EST.

And our final mother of the day, infamous Mama Rose (Rosalind Russell) in "Gypsy" from 1962.  This musical tells the story of real-life stripping star Gypsy Rose Lee and her life with the ultimate stage mother, Rose.  Based on the 1959 stage musical "Gypsy: A Musical Fable," it stars Russell as Rose and Natalie Wood as Gypsy.  The stage producers had originally been hoping to get Judy Garland to star as Rose and Ann-Margret to play Gypsy, but Russell, her husband, theatre producer Frederick Brisson, screenwriter Leonard Spigelgass, and director Mervyn LeRoy were already coming together to make "Gypsy" and have Russell star.  Like always in those Hollywood days, there was some dubbing needed for singing.  Russell just couldn't master the film's music.  So LeRoy hired Lisa Kirk to dub for Russell.  Kirk's talent at mimicking the gravelly sound of Russell's voice allowed for some amazing blending though.  Rose's final song "Rose's Turn" is actually a blend of both Russell's real voice and Kirk's.  However, even though Wood had been dubbed the previous year in "West Side Story," she was able to use her real singing voice for "Gypsy."  This wonderful musical is on TCM Sunday at 10pm EST.

So, be sure to tell your mother you love her this weekend, and maybe sit down together to watch a little mother-based movie marathon.  Have a wonderful weekend, moms!  And I'll be back Monday with another great movie.

(Post-tidbit:  "Bachelor Mother" was David Niven's first starring role, which came out in theaters right when WWII started, and Niven went back home to the UK to enlist.  On his return, he was bombarded by movie posters for "Bachelor Mother," calling him "the star who came home to join the RAF.")

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