Third Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: Cactus Flower (1969)

In 1938, she was like no other actress in Hollywood.  She came to Hollywood already a film star in Sweden.  She made six Swedish films before David O. Selznick wanted to her to star in the remake of one those Swedish films, Intermezzo (1939). At first she refused because she did not like his terms. However, he changed the terms and offered again. With a better contract, she agreed to star in the American version that movie. However, Hollywood, being Hollywood, wanted to personally remake Bergman too. They immediately sent her instructions/demands. Again, she surprised them when she refused to have her teeth fixed, shave her eyebrows or change her German sounding name.

She was a healthy, natural beauty who preferred to not wear makeup except lightly, for work or special events. She was a professional when it came to work. She was never late or required special treatment while making her movies.  When she signed a contract, she never renegotiated for more money because the movie became more profitable than originally planned. For ten years, she was successful and well respected by her peers and the public.  She starred in such classics as Gaslight (1944); For Whom The Bells Toll (1943); The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945); Notorious (1946); Casablanca (1942); Spellbound (1945); Joan of Arc (1948) ….

Yet in 1950, she left Hollywood in the whirlwind of scandal.  She went from being one of the most respected actresses in Hollywood to the most despicable, at least in the eyes of public opinion. The “witch hunt” even went so far that a senator from Colorado claimed Ingrid Bergman as “a powerful influence for evil.”  Of course, she was Blacklisted and could not find work in Hollywood after that.

What did she do to deserve such a hateful public outcry?

She left her husband and daughter in the states, to go make a movie in Italy.  Roberto Rossellini was the director of her latest film, Stromboli (1950). Both, actress and director, were married to other people when they began their affair.  Then, she became pregnant; and, declared her love for Rossellini and refused to go back to her husband.  It didn’t matter to the public that they each had been separated from their spouses long before they met.

In 1956, she made her first comeback American movie, Anastasia.  Although this was an American film, it was made in England.  It was nearly 20 years later, before Bergman would walk on a sound stage in Hollywood California again. In 1969, the year of flower power, the sexual revolution, hippies, and Vietnam, Bergman came back to a different America and Hollywood. At age 54, she would star in her first comedy.  She is in full bloom in this 1969 romantic comedy: Cactus Flower. She was quoted as saying:

I always wanted to do comedies; but, nobody discovered this until my old age….they think all Swedes are like Greta Garbo.

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This movie’s premise uses the sexual revolution of the 60s as it’s backdrop for a comedy based on the complex relationships between the sexes. Comparing the strict sexual rules of the 50s to the slacked morales of the 60s and 70s is quite a jump in a cultural turn around. Much of this social change can be attributed to the FDA approving The Pill as a contraceptive in 1960.  For the first time in the history of women, we were given control of when, who, and where they wanted to have children. This equated to sexual freedom.

I had not seen this movie since 1969.  So, I rented it to refresh my memory. Surprisingly, enjoy the humor and one liner jokes.  The script is still witty and sharp. Also, the theme of the movie is still as relevant today as it was in 1969, since equality between the sexes continues to be debated today.

Some of The Other Actors

Walter Matthau is one of those actors with perfect comedic timing.  He has a dead pan delivery (like the straight man in a comedy act) that sounds authentic enough to make his one liners funny.  The amazing thing about this is he can be the finny straight man with any person in any scene. As I watched his hilarious performance in this movie, I realized how much I missed him in his other movies, especially the “grumpy old man” with Jack Lemmon.

Of course, it is a rare treat to see Bergman in a comedy. Who knew she could be so funny?  It is always wonderful to watch her in any movie at any age.  In this film, she plays a uptight, stern nurse in her 40s who is single; but, in love with her playboy boss.  Bergman always possesses that cinema magic with her on screen presence and stage performances. You literally cannot take your eyes off her.

Goldie Hawn was mostly known as Televison’s Rowen and Martin’s “it girl” who danced in her bikini with a ditzy blonde personal. It shocked many people at the time to learn that she shared the screen with the likes of Bergman. This is Goldie Hawn’s first feature in a big budget movie; and, she is so compelling as the booty call girlfriend she won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Bergman was nominated for Best actress but lost to Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brody.

Rick Lenz is an actor that mostly disappeared after this movie.  Too bad because he holds his own pretty well as the potential love interest behind Julian.  The whole time I watched his likable performance, I kept thinking of a young Jimmy Stewart.

Summary of the movie: Cactus Flower

A single dentist (Walter Matthau) who has an much younger girlfriend (Goldie Hawn) feels pressured to marry her. He has just one problem. In order to avoid commitment and marriage, he lied and told her that he is already married. After seeing each other for over a year, this young, idealistic girlfriend realizes she cannot continue the relationship; unless, he agrees to tell his wife the truth; then, they can get divorced so she and he, the dentist, can marry.

Despite the fact that this is a comedy, it begins with a very depressing subject, suicide. After Julian Winton (Matthau) misses their one year anniversary dinner, Toni (Hawn) decides to write Julian a letter explaining why she would rather kill herself then to continue living with constant disappointment and loneliness.

We see Toni coming out of her Greenwich Village flat, in her fluffy pink slippers and overcoat, to put a letter into the mail box. Once back in her flat, she slowly puts out the candles on the table set for two. After she sadly looks over the clean plates and unopened bottle of wine.  She goes to the gas stove and turns on the gas. She then proceeds to lie on her bed with her arms crossed, awaiting death.

Luckily, a neighbor, Igor Sullivan (Rick Lenz) comes out of his apartment into the hall smelling gas.  He locates that the origin of the smell which is coming out of Toni”s apartment.  He bangs on her door and gets no answer.  He climbs out on the fire escape and breaks into her apartment through a window.  He turns off the gas and opens the windows and doors, fanning the gas with his arms.  Seeing Toni unconscious on her bed, he tries to wake her up; but, she doesn’t respond. He performs CPR on her. When she comes too, she thinks it is Julian trying to kiss he. She gives Igor a passionate kiss. They have a sweet conversation as to why she is dating a married man.  Ironically, Toni claims it is because Julian is honest. He told her right away that he was married.  According to Toni, she has been lied too all her life. Julian was the first descent man that she has ever met.

When Julian gets Toni’s letter, he runs out of the office scares to death that he would find her dead. Of course, she is not.  But, Toni insists he quit his wife and marry her. Julian is so relieved she is alive and shocked that she would attempt suicide over him, he promises to get a divorce right away. Then, Toni insists that she meet the wife as part of her conditions.  She wants the wife to know that they would be supportive of her too. Like I said, Toni is a very idealistic young lady.

Julian has a dilemma.  Where can he find a woman to pretend to be his wife? A wife that he has been married too for over ten years? He could of course tell Toni the truth and risk losing her forever. Then again, is her emotional well being strong enough to accept the truth without her trying to harm herself?

His dental assistant and office manager is Stephanie Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman). She is extremely professional, competent and loyal; and, she is secretly in love with Julian. You probably know of a few women who match this description from the work place.  Sometimes, they jokingly refer to themselves as the “Work wife” as opposed to “house wife.”

Julian explains to his moocher friend, Harvey Greenfield (Jack Weston), why he likes Nurse/Miss Dickinson:

She is like a wife. A good wife, devoted, competent, takes care of everything for me during the day. And at night, she goes home, to her home. And I go home with no problems or cares, to my girl. My life is arranged the way I like it.

The title Catcus Flower is symbolic of Nurse Dickinson.  On the outside, she is sharpe, prickly and surviving.  But, as the years go by, there is a beautiful flower inside that is ready to bloom. You can actually see this in two different photographic of her taking care if this office plant.

Of course, Julian is going to ask Miss Dickinson out for a drink; so, he can ask her to lie and pretend to be his wife.  After working for him for over ten years, he has never asked her out for anything after work.  It is a mad guess to figure out what must have been going on in her love sick mind when he actually suggests they have a few drinks.

There are many funny one liners in this movie, I could barely keep up. In other words, I laughed a lot and the movie didn’t get dragged down by over sentimentality like many Romantic comedies. This comedy is so good that Adam Sandler did a remake in 2011,  Just Go With It, with Jennifer Anniston playing Bergman’ s role.

To give you an idea of a Bergman one liner, when she comes into the patient’s room to double check dental instruments and secure the body cover up on patient, Harvey Greenfield, he says to her:

“Hey! I was reading the other day about a dentist in New Jersey who had topless nurses.”  As she adjusts his cover up, she says, ” I didn’t know you were interested in reading.”

You can image how these lies begin to unravel into bigger lies which makes this movie a great comedy. Because, Nurse Dickinson will attempt to help Julian secure Toni’s love. I hope if you haven’t seen this Bergman comedy, you don’t miss a chance to see it. I just like to add a comment about Goldie Hawn. She wrote her autobiography titled: A Lotus Grows in Mud. I just thought it was meaningful that she picked another flower that will only bloom once it has beaten the odds of the struggle and surviving. This certainly speaks volumes for anyone who has gone though horrendous life events and out stronger and better from it.  This quote from the book explains it succinctly:

The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud — the obstacles of life and its suffering. … The mud speaks of the common ground that humans share, no matter what our stations in life. … Whether we have it all or we have nothing, we are all faced with the same obstacles: sadness, loss, illness, dying and death. If we are to strive as human beings to gain more wisdom, more kindness and more compassion, we must have the intention to grow as a lotus and open each petal one by one”.[1]

Ingrid Bergman’s last movie was made for television on the life of Israeli Prime Minister, Goldie Mier. Bergman died of breast cancer on her birthday, August 29th in 1982. She had just turned 67 years old. Without question, she left us far too soon. Thankfully, she also left us with over 50 films of her life work that will inspire actresses and women in general to be strong, work hard and to be true to themselves.

Ingrid Bergman, is honored in a Blogathon which is hosted by Virginie Pronvost of The Wonderful World of Cinema.  I would like to thank Virginie for the invitation to submit my post with various other excellent bloggers who are focused on a variety of Bergman’s movies. To read more posts about Bergman and her work, please use the link below.

https://thewonderfulworldofcinema.wordpress.com/2017/08/27/the-3rd-wonderful-ingrid-bergman-blogathon-is-here/

 

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Link References

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Lotus_Grows_in_the_Mud

http://www.alternet.org/story/153969/how_the_sexual_revolution_changed_america_forever

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/multimedia/video/2008/wallace/allen_steve_t.html

 

 

 

 

Second Golden Boy Blogathon: William Holden in Born Yesterday (1950)

William Holden (1918 – 1981) was an unknown in Hollywood in 1938; yet, he was given the desperately sought after lead in boxing movie, Golden Boy (1939).  Upon its released, it became an instant success, and so did Holden. This was his screen debut; and, much of his success he gallantly attributed to his co-star Barbara Stanwyck, who took the 20-year-old under her wing. From 1939 to the year of his his death, on April 1st, he sent her flowers as a reminder that he will always be thankful for her friendship and support. This speaks volumes about the character of William Holden.

Unfortunately, my appreciation of Holden came much later in my life.  Part of the reason why I didn’t get caught up in the awe-inspiring Holden might be because of my mother.  They belonged to the same generation.  She was born in March; and, he was born in April of the same year. I avoided most of his movies because I didn’t understand my Mom’s enthusiasm over his work.  As a typical teenager in angst, I wanted to distance myself from my mother’s tastes and opinions. During the 60s and 70s, there truly was a generation gap.

To my mother, Holden always appeared young, talented, and engaging

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She also saw him as the romantic, handsome actor in a leading role.

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I tried to watch one of his movies on television when I was ten years old.  I watched Stalag 17 (1953). Realistically, I was too young to understand this WWII war movie.  As a kid, I heard so much about him that it was like watching a family member suffering at the hands of his “friends.”  When he received a brutal beating for being an assumed traitor, it traumatized me. Now, it sounds silly; but at that time, it was painful.  After that experience,  I didn’t want to watch any of his movies again.  That is, until 35 years later.

When my mother passed away in 2002,  I stayed home from work, sick. Needing a distraction from feeling miserable, I turned on the television and began watching Turner Movie Classics (TMC).  It was airing Born Yesterday (1950).  As I watched it, I thought about my mom and what her reaction might have been as she had watched it.  Then, I started to laugh. Eventually, I enjoyed the movie for its own merits.

Like most people, as I have matured, so has my tastes and perceptions. For me, William Holden’s work became an acquired taste.  Now, each time when I watch one of his movies, I marvel at how wonderful he is on the screen.  Born Yesterday (1950) was the first movie that I truly enjoyed watching. Then, came Sabrina (1954) followed by Stalag 17 (1953), again! He won his only Oscar for his role in this movie. But, the best movie, for me was Sunset Boulevard (1950). However, for this post, I decided to write about the movie that begun my appreciation of all Holden movies: Born Yesterday.

Link for Movie Trailer for Born Yesterday

Born Yesterday (1950) and some kudos too

Judy Holiday was a successful stage actress who played Billie Dawn on stage.  She was a newcomer by Hollywood’s standards.  It was quite shocking to many people when she won an Oscar for her performance. Holiday’s Oscar completion that year was Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in All About Eve, Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, and Eleanor Parker in Caged, not too shabby to say the least.  Holden was also nominated as Best Actor in Sunset Boulevard.

Many of Holden films were acclaimed; but, when it came to winning an Oscar, he described it like this to film critic, Roger Ebert:

Apart from winning for “Stalag 17,”  I’ve been the bird in a lot of badminton games where other people won.

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As you watch Holiday’s Oscar winning performance, let me assure you that Holiday, herself, is not a “dumb Blonde.”  There have been reports that her IQ was 171.  I tell you this just in case you confuse the actress with her part in this movie.

 

Born Yesterday Movie Summary

Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) is a self-made tycoon who has more money than he can ever spend with an insatiable appetite for power.  His business is in steel junk. Like all filthy rich men, he has come to Washington D.C. to buy a senator.  He brings with him his girlfriend of seven years, Billie Dawn (Judy Holiday).  Billie is an ex showgirl who is barely literate.  Harry and his 100,000 lawyer use Billie to sign most the business transactions to give Harry protection from his illegal practices

To help smooth out Harry’s reputation in D.C., his lawyer hires a free-lance journalist, Paul Verrall (William Holden), to write a glowing interview about the millionaire.  As the lawyer explains, Paul is one of the reporters to watch out for. If Harry “takes him in” then, he has nothing to worry about later.

However, during an initial meeting with the senator and his wife, Billie embarrasses Harry with her lack of social graces and general knowledge about the nation’s capitol. The lawyer asks Harry why not send her home. Harry says he thinks he is in love with the “dumb broad” and wants to keep her around: They enjoy playing Gin Rummy.

 

Then, his lawyer suggests that Harry hires Paul Verrall to not only write an interview about him but to also tutor Billie about Washington and its politics. Unbeknownst to Harry, Paul had briefly spoke to Billie just before as he met Harry for the first time.  Harry offers him $200.00 a week and Paul agrees.  When Harry asks Paul why he agreed to tutor Billie, Paul says he  loves to educate voters about their government.  He then admits that he would have done it for nothing (He does not add because he had already met Billie).

 

Paul later explains to Billie, A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in. He explains further that a democracy is only as good as the people in it; and all the bad in the world is bred by selfishness. Surprisingly, Billie is a quick learner. She and Paul develop a mutual respect for each other while falling in love too.

You naturally feel sorry for Billie because Harry degrades her at every turn.  He constantly yells at her to shut up!  When Harry wants to prove how “stupid” she is to Paul, he asks her “What is a peninsula?” Billie says, “it is some  kind of medicine.”

Later, Paul asked Billie if she knew what Democracy was.  She answers, “yeah, that means not Republican.”  Later, when Billie begins to question Harry’s intelligence and his illegal practices, he begins to suspect what it is she is actually learning. Billie asks Harry who was Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776).  Harry does not have a clue.  He becomes angry and yells at Paul that he is not paying him to teach Billie about dead people: I am paying you to teach her how to act with live people.

While things heat up between Paul and Billie, things go sour for Harry and Billie.  The lawyer persuades Harry to propose marriage to Billie since she owns more of the company, on paper, than he does. Besides, the lawyer warns, a wife cannot testify against her husband in a court of law. This would further protect Harry in his illegal dealings.

Meanwhile, Paul gives Billie books, newspapers, and visits to historical monuments, museums, and government buildings. During it all, they discuss political ideas and the ideas behind the concepts of liberty and equality. Charming Paul is kind and patient as he strives to help her realize there so much more to life and to learn. I really enjoyed the scenes filmed in the D.C. area as Billie is learning about the struggle for freedom. It is in these scenes that we see her begin to discover her own individual power too.

I don’t want to give away spoilers, at least not any more than I have already. I hope you have the opportunity to watch this classic.  It is interesting to compare how much has changed and evolved in U.S. politics and in our civil rights since the making of this film in 1950.

Some Closing Thoughts About William Holden

Holden’s movie career span was over 40 years and included over 75 movies.  However, not all was Golden, in his life. Despite a few professional setbacks, I also learned that he had some very sad days in his personal life. He and his youngest brother, Bobbie, served in the military during WWII.   Robert was a Navy fighter pilot and was killed in action (1944).  Much later, in 1966, he was in a car accident where alcohol was involved and a person died. To have experienced these two horrific tragedies would have caused an enormously amount of sadness in anyone’s life. It is not too surprising that he battled with alcoholism for years.

Holden died four months after the release of his last movie, Blake Edwards’ S.O.B. (1981). Sadly, many people remember his death first before they recall his movies.  They recall the tragic circumstances that surrounded it: it was accidental, he was alone, and he was not discovered for days.

Fortunately, there is an overabundance of wonderful things to say about his work and his life.  For those who were lucky enough to have known him, he was described as a gentleman who was kind and honest.  To his peers, he was fun to work with and was the calming force for many on set.  To his fans, he will always be one of Hollywood’s finest actors.  To my personal delight, I also learned he managed/ partnered a wildlife preserve in Africa: A man after my own heart.

William Holden always played the worldly, intelligent cynic. A witty hero who was slightly tainted as to not to be confused with a generic Prince Charming or Golden Boy. The characterization of his roles were complex with layers upon layers of good and not so good personal traits. His portrayals were believable enough to convince you that you might have met this person or someone like him, in real life. One of his gifts as an actor was to convey a sense of realism in all of his roles.

I hope you will read more Blog posts about William Holden and his movies.  With that,  I would like to thank Virginie Pronovost at The Wonderful World of Cinema for hosting The Second William Holden Blogathon.

Use the following link to read more blogging tributes to a great actor and his work.

https://thewonderfulworldofcinema.wordpress.com/

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I do not own any of these images

REFERENCES:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042276/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Born_Yesterday_(1950_film)

http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/william-holden-at-supersonic-speed

http://williamholden.20m.com/biopage.html