Mitchell Leisen will be celebrated at UCLA beginning a week from today, Friday, November 16th.
The month-long series That Signature Style: The Films of Mitchell Leisen features 16 of the director's films. Leisen is a director who has perhaps been underrated in the past, but in recent years it seems as though his work is being reassessed by film fans and historians. Leisen particularly excelled at heartfelt romantic drama and bubbly romantic comedies; whether drama or comedy, Leisen's movies always look wonderful, reflecting his background as a former art director. While fellow director Billy Wilder unfairly derided Leisen's background, I believe the great look of Leisen's films is a key component to their success, though style is never more important than the interactions of the characters. Leisen had a special knack for moving the audience without being maudlin, and on the flip side his movies are often laugh-out-loud funny.
Though a number of the films in this series have been shown on Turner Classic Movies or are available on DVD, some of these movies are quite difficult to see. Classic film fans in Southern California should jump at the opportunity to see rarely shown movies such as LADY IN THE DARK (1944) and FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1947) -- on a big screen, no less!
Although I would have loved the series to include a couple more key Leisen films, such as ARISE, MY LOVE (1940), this is an excellent lineup of films from an impressive career. I hope to have the opportunity to enjoy several of these films in the next few weeks!
Opening night on November 16th will feature historian David Chierichetti signing copies of his book MITCHELL LEISEN: HOLLYWOOD DIRECTOR.
That first night features two of my all-time favorite '30s comedies, MIDNIGHT (1939) and EASY LIVING (1937). MIDNIGHT is a gem starring Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, and Mary Astor, while the delightful EASY LIVING features Jean Arthur ("Golly!"), Ray Milland, and Edward Arnold; it includes a justly famous brawl in the Automat. I'm hoping to attend so that I can have the opportunity to enjoy these very funny movies in 35mm with an appreciative audience.
Below is the rest of the schedule; links to those films I've reviewed here previously can be found at the hyperlinked titles. The UCLA web pages for each double bill can be found at the hyperlinked dates.
Sunday, November 18th, features two films from 1934: DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY with Fredric March and Evelyn Venable, and MURDER AT THE VANITIES, with a cast that includes Jack Oakie, Kitty Carlisle, and Duke Ellington.
November 30th features HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), which received multiple Oscar nominations but is so difficult to see that I had to resort to YouTube a couple of years ago. It's a superb film which I highly recommend, starring Olivia de Havilland, Charles Boyer, Paulette Goddard, and Rosemary DeCamp.
It's paired with Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray in SWING HIGH, SWING LOW (1937), which I believe is the only one of their costarring films I haven't seen as yet.
Sunday, December 2nd, is another outstanding evening, starting off with Barbara Stanwyck and John Lund in the gripping romantic noir NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950). Leisen and his cast completely sell this touching story of a woman who assumes a dead woman's identity, finding the love of a man and a family in the process.
NO MAN OF HER OWN plays with THE MATING SEASON (1951), which also starred frequent Leisen leading man John Lund. Lund's bride is played by the gorgeous Gene Tierney, and their mothers are played by Miriam Hopkins and the Oscar-nominated Thelma Ritter.
I had the good fortune as a child to see Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland in LADY IN THE DARK (1944) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This rarely seen, not-on-DVD film plays December 9th. It's paired with the most enjoyable TAKE A LETTER, DARLING (1942), featuring a sterling cast: Rosalind Russell, Fred MacMurray, Macdonald Carey, and Robert Benchley.
I most hope to attend the movies on December 10th, KITTY (1945) and FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1947). Neither film is on DVD, and while KITTY has been shown on TCM, to my memory FRENCHMAN'S CREEK hasn't turned up there in the last few years. KITTY stars two favorites, Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard, while FRENCHMAN'S CREEK stars Joan Fontaine, Arturo de Cordova, and Basil Rathbone. FRENCHMAN'S CREEK was based on a book by Daphne Du Maurier, who also wrote the novel which inspired one of Fontaine's best films, REBECCA (1940).
The Christmas film REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) has reached new audiences in recent years, thanks to the championing of Robert Osborne and Turner Classic Movies; it was one of the first films released on DVD in the TCM Vault Collection. REMEMBER THE NIGHT will be shown at UCLA on December 14th. What a great time of year to see a film which so effectively conveys a deeply felt Christmas spirit.
It plays with one of Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray's best films together, HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE (1935), costarring Ralph Bellamy.
The series comes to a close on December 16th, with Olivia de Havilland in her Oscar-winning role in TO EACH HIS OWN (1946), which once again also features John Lund.
Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray then team in one of my favorite '40s comedies, the very funny NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943). Colbert's a magazine photographer and MacMurray's a tunnel-digging "sand hog." Can upper class and working class find happiness together?
UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater is one of the best places to see classic films in the Los Angeles area, and I could happily attend every single night in this series. Hopefully I'll be able to attend at least a few, and I highly recommend that fellow Southern Californians take the opportunity to see some really wonderful movies in 35mm prints. Great evenings of entertainment guaranteed!