Category Archives: Movie Review

Breaking Bad and The Bribe (1949)

RobertTaylor_thebribeA husband with a fatal medical condition, trying to provide for his family by performing illegal services for a conglomerate. A wife doing what she can to get through it and make ends meet with a simple job. A cop who is too close to the situation and questions whose side he is on.

Sound familiar? Nope, I’m not actually describing the plot of Breaking Bad. The above are the main highlights of The Bribe, a lesser-known Noir from 1949 starring Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, John Hodiak, Vincent Price and amazingly enough, Charles Laughton.

[Warning – there will be some frank talking about plot points of Breaking Bad here. If you wish to avoid spoilers and have not seen the final season, avert your eyes now!]

To anyone who has seen the film, it’s not a really solid parallel, no. John Hodiak’s character is pathetic, pitiable and rather annoying, but he is by no means Walter White. He merely develops a medical condition that grounds him as a flier and then uses his knowledge of planes to help a deliciously evil Vincent Price test planes for nefarious ends. Ava Gardner as his wife does not experience the incredible transformation of character Skyler White goes through, but she does show glimmers of the calculating femme fatale Skyler became. Especially when her family (in this case, husband John Hodiak) is on the line. Robert Taylor shines as the special agent sent to ferret out the illegal dealings. He’s straight as a pin when he begins the crusade and by the end of the film, his feelings for Ava have so changed him, he questions everything he ever believed in. It’s somewhat like Walter White’s DEA brother-in-law Hank Schrader, who suffers such a betrayal with Walt’s choice of career, it causes him to become obsessed with taking Walt down.

The movie is an enjoyable Noir with some gorgeous 40s fashions, a fun little song and a host of remarkable stars. But by far, my favorite aspect of all is Charles Laughton’s Pie Shape. The fact that the great Charles Laughton would ever deign to play such a preposterous character is notable in itself. And then to have played him with such sincerity and perfection, it’s just unforgettable. Pie Shape is hard to peg at first. He’s just in the background, being remarked upon with bewilderment by Robert Taylor’s character. In between his whiny complaints about the condition of his feet and his completely serious showcase of the foot x-rays explaining his pain, he somehow becomes endearing. And that is the genius of Laughton: the ability to make even the most unlikable of characters human.

So, perhaps my parallel is a stretch, but it’s similar enough to deserve commentary, even if it’s purely coincidental. And being the rabid classic film fan I am, I would love to believe The Bribe was a source of inspiration to Vince Gilligan. Plus, there is one little line that connected a few dots for me in the similarities. When Ava Gardner is having a particularly hard time of it with her husband, Charles Laughton walks in, sets down his rain soaked poncho and asks “Things breaking bad?”

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Irony and The Seven Year Itch

**Fair warning: this review/essay contains spoilers and assumes a basic knowledge of the film’s events**

For more years than I care to admit, I deliberately avoided seeing The Seven Year Itch. The overwhelming popular culture perception of the film (this and this) just put me off and I couldn’t stand the thought of watching it. But when I had my Marilyn revelation (explained here) I decided to give the film a chance. After all, I could fast forward the yucky Tom Ewell scenes I just knew had to exist. And that’s when I discovered one of the greatest (yet not discussed) misconceptions of classic film.

You see, on the surface, The Seven Year Itch looks like a film glorifying extra-marital affairs. You think it’s about Tom Ewell blatantly moving Marilyn into his apartment while Evelyn Keyes* is away. Well, at least that’s what I thought.

While it’s true that the majority of the film is seen from the perspective of Tom Ewell’s character (the creepily annoying Richard Sherman**), the film remains a wry, truthful window into the life of a beautiful woman (Marilyn Monroe, simply named The Girl). TE blunders around in this selfish little fantasy world imagining how much better his life would be if Marilyn was his girl. And every so often, the viewer gets these little glimpses into The Girl’s thoughts, usually occurring at the same moment TE is off imagining.

As is so often the case with relationships, Richard Sherman sees his friendship with The Girl as his one chance to be “the big man.” In all their encounters, he spends most of the time plotting how he will maneuver her into a situation of his design. And what is she doing? She’s absorbed by the fear that she’ll be enduring another sleepless night in an air condition-less apartment. Simple as that. She’s not in the fantasy land Richard Sherman created for her. She doesn’t even realize he’s thinking those things. All she wants is a good night’s sleep.

And miraculously, in spite of his overt lecherousness, The Girl actually enjoys his company and ends up making one of the all time best speeches in movie history concerning what women (at least nice women) actually want:

How do you know what a pretty girl wants? You and your imagination! You think every girl’s a dope! A pretty girl goes to a party and there’s some guy – a great big lug in a fancy striped vest, strutting around like a tiger, giving you that “I’m so handsome you can’t resist me” look. And from this, she’s supposed to fall flat on her face. Well she doesn’t fall on her face.

But there’s another guy in the room. Way over in the corner. Maybe he’s kind of nervous and shy – perspiring a little. First you look past him, but then you sort of sense he’s gentle and kind and worried. And he’ll be tender with you. Nice and sweet. That’s what’s really exciting!

After I heard this the first time, I stood up in my living room and clapped. It was singularly refreshing to finally hear a beautiful woman strike a blow for being treated with care: “tender, nice and sweet.” Yes, please.

So, in the end, I discovered that The Seven Year Itch is actually a hilarious look at how men relate to women. Even the all the awkwardness, mistakes, miscommunications and misunderstandings that can arise just from two people meeting make that interaction a worthwhile experience. It’s surprisingly family-oriented and the polar opposite of the unbridled raunch-fest pop-culture would have you believe. Do give it a go, if you’ve yet to see it. It now lives high atop the list of my favorite Marilyn films.

*Evelyn Keyes’ hair in this movie qualifies for most unfair hairdo in a film. It’s a hideous nest of poodle curls that she never did anything to deserve.

**I would also like to address the fact that Richard Sherman is quite the paranoid screwball. He’s a middle-aged, happily married man who incessantly talks to himself and leaps to insane conclusions based on his wild imaginings. Honestly, he’s incredibly lucky his wife hasn’t shipped him off to the looney bin already.

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Bradford Dillman, Villain Extraordinaire

As you have no doubt realized by now, I am a staunch supporter of the creative endeavors of my pals*. Not just because they are my special chums and I love them, but because these gals are enormously talented, each in their own way.

Today I’d like to share The Bradford Dillman honorary blogathon – the annual project of my dear friend The Millie. This year’s collection of posts rallies under the moniker: Bradford Dillman: A Jazzier Kind of Noir. Don’t know who Bradford Dillman is or why he deserves a blogathon? Well, as the official hostess and organizer of these Bradford festivities, Millie created a short video promotion that is sure to clear up any questions. Have a look:

After laughing till I cried at that hilarious promo, I became determined to participate this year. As I set about searching the filmography of Mr. Dillman, I found a film just tailor-made for a blogathon hosted by The Millie: The Great Gold Conspiracy aka Gold (1974). This is not a film I would typically watch (my main rule is to steer clear of films made after 1968, especially ones from 1969-1979), but I braved Gold for the sake of Bradford Dillman.

Gold takes a harsh look at the complex workings of an African goldmine. Riddled with ulterior motives, back-stabbing, racism and intrigue, the management team of the mine works through a disastrous accident in the first minutes of the film. At the root of all the trouble is none other than our friend Bradford. He has cooked up a plot to sabotage the mine for profit and is determined to see it through. We have fistfights, extra-marital affairs, dirty dealing and two (not just 1, but 2!) mine collapses.

Let’s just do a quick rundown on the vital statistics here:

1. Bradford Dillman in a prominent villain’s role. Just look at that troubled expression.

2. Interesting, if almost kooky theme and end music. A textbook example of 70’s imagery and sounds, right down to the tune at the end credits with lyrics sung by Jimmy Helms.

3. An almost unbelievable all-star cast.

Roger Moore in full James Bond mode – almost always found in carelessly unbuttoned shirts.

Ray Milland as an American tycoon, complete with cigar and corporate snarl.

John Gielgud, Bradford’s partner in corruption.

Susannah York- too old for pigtails, but sporting them nonetheless. This poor lady really got the shaft from wardrobe on this film. Not a single redeemable outfit in the bunch. In fact, when she dines with Roger Moore, she’s clad in what appears to be a large sheer curtain, gathered strategically.

[Warning – SPOILERS AHEAD!]

And the best for last, #4 – Bradford Dillman’s epic final scene…

…death by Rolls Royce. Honestly, this scene (which clocks in at a mere 3 minutes) trumps every other memorable event in the film (including two mine collapses and Susannah York landing a small plane on a tiny dirt road near the mine entrance). The scene only gains epic status because the object of wrath is Bradford Dillman. After he has spent the entire film scheming, double-dealing and lying to all and sundry, he finally meets his end flying through the air in a cloud of dust.

The only drawbacks for me are the needless gore (Oh, you didn’t want to see Roger Moore’s limbs get crushed? So sorry) and the level of risque elements. On my risque scale of 1-10, I’d give this film a 8.5 for situations and language. But prejudice against the 70s and cinematic gripes aside, I must admit Gold is a highly enjoyable film. It won’t be joining the ranks of my DVD shelf any time soon, but I wouldn’t have missed the performance of Bradford Dillman for the world. He really is a deliciously evil villain!

[End SPOILERS]

Gold is available for viewing on Amazon’s Instant Video or free on YouTube. (To see Bradford’s incredible final scene, watch from 1:51:00. Susannah’s curtain dress is at 43:00.)

*In case you don’t know, my pals are Kate, Millie, Nicole & Sarah

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Movie Review: Love Letters (1945)

Redesigned movie poster created by Casey Koester - all rights reserved. Copyright 2009.(redesigned movie poster by yours truly Р©2009)

At first glance, 1945’s Love Letters appears to be a glossy, run-of-the-mill wartime love story. Starring Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones in their first romantic pairing (a full 3 years before Portrait of Jennie), the film is a mesmerizing, perplexing, layered work that defies genre categorization. The love story is definitely there, but the film also has elements of Noir, straight up mystery and courtroom drama.

The tale begins innocently enough – when a handsome, arrogant, unlettered solider named Roger Morland (Robert Sully) meets a girl he wishes to impress (Jennifer Jones) he enlists his comrade in arms, Alan Quinton (Joseph Cotten) to write love letters to the girl in his name. Alan agrees, against his better judgement, and finds a kindred spirit in Victoria. The two share a friendship that is unlike anything he has known before. When the war ends, Alan and Roger part company and lose track of each other, but Alan never forgets the sweet, understanding girl who corresponded with him as he masqueraded as Roger. When Alan’s aunt passes away and wills her lonely country cottage to him, he takes the opportunity to spend time by himself to sort out the happenings of the war, especially his feelings for Victoria. But it just so happens this cottage is located near the small English village where Alan sent the letters to Victoria, so he embarks on a mission to find out what happened to her and Roger. And he isn’t prepared for what he uncovers.

The supporting cast list reads like a Who’s Who of character actors: Cecil Kellaway, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Denny, Anita Louise and (my personal favorite) Ann Richards. Ann Richards plays Victoria’s calm, wise and mysteriously prophetic friend Dilly – a character with some of the best lines in the whole film. Anita Louise is Alan’s social climbing girlfriend whose attitude about his wartime hardships is surprisingly cold, detached and uncaring. It’s an impressive performance that deserves more appreciation and recognition. It astounded me the first time I saw it because I’m used to seeing Anita Louise as a loveable, sweet-tempered girl.

The original novel entitled Pity My Simplicity was written by Christopher Massie in 1944. When Paramount decided to make the book into a film, Ayn Rand took on the task of writing the screenplay. Yes, you read that right – Ayn Rand of Objectivism, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged fame. She spent a few years in Hollywood working as a screenwriter for Hal Wallis’ production company while she wrote the screenplay for The Fountainhead (source). Because I’m a big fan of the film, I decided to hunt down Chris Massie’s book and find out how much of the plot was his writing. After all, if the story I liked was his, it was a good bet his other works would be worth reading.

Well, Ayn Rand said it best: “The novel on which the picture was based was a holy mess.” There isn’t a bit of understatement in that sentiment. Chris Massie’s novel is full of superfluous supporting characters who muddy the plot and make it impossible to follow. The Joseph Cotten character lacks any sort of appeal. He is selfish, self-pitying, childish and even worse, his name in the book is Maurice. The novel is needlessly tear-jerky, to the point of being laughable. A long scene involving a mirrored-wall room filled with pillows and balloons (mercifully omitted in the screenplay) qualifies as gibberish. And the ending infuriated me to such an extent, I fumed and raved about the injustice of it for a full hour. If I had read the book before seeing the film, I would have avoided the film at all costs. I realized that the parts of the film I enjoyed the most – the brilliant, insightful dialogue about life, love and human relations – were all Ayn Rand’s additions. She eliminated the characters who confused the story, created the role for Cecil Kellaway (his character is a woman in the book) and bolstered the Dilly character into the strong, confident woman I admire.

When the film premiered, critics took an instant dislike to the effort. Bosley Crowther (what a name!) writing for the New York Times dismissed the film as “sentimental twaddle,” pronounced William Dieterle’s direction as “mushy and pretentious” and described Jennifer Jones’ performance as “a tipsy high school school girl who has smelled the cork once too often and is all giggly and loose at the joints.” Hmm. Sour grapes, Mr. Crowther?

Despite Mr. Crowther’s scathing opinion, Love Letters remains in an honored place at the top of my favorite films list ever since I first saw it on TCM years ago. The combination of the stellar cast, engaging plot and memorable lines keeps me coming back to it over and over again.

Little Extras

The song Love Letters (sung by Dick Haymes above) does not appear with lyrics in the final print of the film, but this version was released the month after the film and rose to #11 on the Billboard chart.

Be on the lookout for the first scene where Joseph Cotten writes a letter. The handwriting pictured is rumored to belong to David O. Selznick himself. (Screencap above belongs to Jacqueline T. Lynch of Another Old Movie Blog. Check out her fascinating in-depth post on Love Letters here.)

TCM is playing Love Letters again for the first time since I recorded it – tonight (Saturday, January 21, 10pm EST). Set your recorders folks – don’t miss this under appreciated gem!

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Movie Review: Appointment with Danger (1951)

At first flicker, Appointment with Danger looks like a boilerplate low-budget Noir thriller from the 50s. Enjoyable and mildly exciting, but nothing to write a blog post about. However, after you survive the credits adorned with the postal seal and a short propaganda piece touting the Postal Inspectors as saviors of the world, you realize this is no ordinary B-picture. You’re dropped in a cheap hotel room where a fiendish crime is taking place, illuminated only with the intervals of a flashing sign. Cue the fadeout and our two crooks from the hotel room are making a getaway aided by a fast roadster and torrents of rain. But who are these crooks? You may well ask:

That’s right – Henry Morgan and Jack Webb, aka Gannon and Friday of Dragnet fame. As it turns out, the dynamic duo of 50s crime fighting boast a secret past they never divulged in their fervent search for “the facts” later in life. As it happens, the two of them see quite a bit of action on the wrong side of the law in Gary, Indiana.

En route to dispose of their dastardly hotel deed, George (Harry Morgan) stops to aid a nun-in-distress with her obstreperous umbrella while Joe (Jack Webb) attempts to hide from the nun’s percipient gaze. But alas, Morgan and Webb just weren’t cut out for the thug-life. Their victim in the hotel room turns out to be a postal inspector (which means ALAN LADD is coming to get them) and worse still, the Umbrella Nun remembers them both (despite Webb’s valiant efforts to melt into the shadows). As Morgan and Webb discover later, the habited lady in distress is no ordinary nun.

The hero of Film Noir himself, Mr. Alan Ladd (do be sure to note his fabulous hair – this is the kind of hair that falls down over his eye at strategic moments to melt a girl’s heart) is hard-boiled postal inspector Al Goddard. He’s as cynical as they come, and even doubts the integrity of the Umbrella Nun (Phyllis Calvert). In the course of the investigation, he encounters Jan Sterling as a gangster’s moll. She’s not to be missed.How to Wear a Fedora 101. Take notes, fellas.

Okay, no more spoilers on the plot, I promise. Aside from the startling cast choices and Alan Ladd appeal, Appointment with Danger holds another element of interest for me. Some of the action takes place in a Midwestern town I once inhabited:The idea of Alan Ladd calmly leaping off freight trains in a town I once called home is pretty darn thrilling, I must admit. The shot of him above with the Junction sign is not in the Midwest. The mountains in the distance are undoubtedly somewhere closer to the Californian coast. But the shot on the platform, with the distinctive station on the left? That one IS a Midwestern town; the one where I maintained an address for a time.

This is the view of the station from the street. Alan Ladd is pictured from the train side of the station, of which photos seem to be impossible to find. But if you look at the roof line of the train side of the building, you see it has the plain peak, as in the screenshot. And the distinctive arched window with decorative contrasting detail at the top is the same, too. The taller structure in the screenshot does not exist today so far as I can tell, but it may have been a building next to the station that has since been torn down. The station is now a reception hall for weddings and events.

How’s that for some Hollywood in my hometown?

Be sure and check out Steve-O’s fabulous review of this film with a more complete plot analysis.

Watch Appointment with Danger for yourself: Netflix, Amazon.

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You’re a better man than I am…

Hello my dears! I’m thrilled to be continuing the film review chain started by Wendymoon of Movie Viewing Girl today (and Cary, Victor & Doug are just as thrilled as I am!).

Look at our chain so far:

Link #1: The Women (1939) by Wendymoon.
Link #2: Private Lives (1931) by Kate Gabrielle.
Link #3: Letty Lynton (1944) by KC.
Link #4: Madame Curie (1944) by Amanda Cooper.
Link #5: Monkey Business (1952) by Sally

and Link #6: Gunga Din (1939) by Casey – me!

The rules of the chain state that each film must be linked to the previous one by actor, actress, director, theme, or some other factor. My link to Monkey Business is Cary Grant and he brings us to Gunga Din.

The story opens with our trio battling and flattening a rival regiment in a bar fight. Soldiers are thrown from windows, rolled down stairs and have bottles cracked over their noggins. It’s a whirlwind scene that sets the lightening pace for the film which never stops straight to the end. The overall themes are friendship, duty and love with duty and love clashing as DFJ tries to mix the two. The plot seems predictable enough as the film begins, but I think you’ll be surprised by the twists and turns and where the boys finally end up. Remember Cary Grant’s slightly unscrupulous sidekick in His Girl Friday? He makes an appearance in this film, but not at all how you would expect!

One of the reasons I chose Gunga Din is of course because it stars my eternal crush Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. I was *shocked, shocked* (in my best Claude Rains voice) to find that my dear honorary niece Millie has not seen it yet! Even though she has promised faithfully to watch it soon, I thought I’d give her some encouragement. So in true Millie-esque fashion, my alternate title for this post is:

Why Millie Should Watch Gunga Din, NOW!

Reason #1: the cast.

Starring DFJ, Cary Grant and Victor McLaglen, Gunga Din is the ultimate adventure spectacle with enough action and exotic scenery to satisfy even a hardcore Black Swan fan like Miss Millie. And besides, this is my beloved Douglas Fairbanks, Jr at the height of his handsomeness. Honestly. Judge for yourself. I think there are few men who could don a form-fitting white uniform and lend it as much grandeur as DFJ does:

Cary Grant speaks throughout the film with a cockney accent, a stark contrast to the suave, sophisticated accent we know him for now. Other stellar attractions in the cast are Sam Jaffe, Joan Fontaine (more on her in a moment…) and Cecil Kellaway in a bit role.

I think Sam Jaffe ought to have the nickname of “The Chameleon”. He was one of the most versatile actors in classic Hollywood, bringing life to the insane Grand Duke Peter in The Scarlet Empress, the humble Indian water boy in our film and the hardened master criminal in The Asphalt Jungle. It took me several years and many viewings of Gunga Din and The Asphalt Jungle to finally realize Sam Jaffe was the same man in both. Oh and interesting fun fact: Sam Jaffe was 47 years old when he played the role of Din.

Reason #2: Cary Grant’s jail scene (pictured above)

No matter how many times I’ve treated myself to a viewing of Gunga Din, I never tire of watching Cary Grant connive his way out of Military Prison with the help of Gunga Din. I’m not giving away anything else, but I guarantee you won’t be able to keep a straight face when you watch it.

Reason #3: The Ball (pictured above)

While unsuspecting ladies waltz gracefully with our boys, Cary & Victor are plotting mayhem and hilarity ensues! Poor DFJ is the object of the mission, but he gets a few digs back at them before all is said and done.

Reason #4: Opinion of Emmy (as played by Joan Fontaine)

All right, allow me to begin this reason with a disclaimer: I adore Joan Fontaine. I think she is extremely lovely, her accent is to die for and she always comes off as terribly sweet in her roles. But, I simply can’t bear her in Gunga Din.

You see, a significant part of the plot revolves around her romance with DFJ. She’s a clingy, annoying fiancee who is standing between DFJ and the career he has always wanted. She wants him to marry her, settle down and become a coffee farmer. A coffee farmer! No, it’s just not DFJ.

Well, being that I am a zealous DFJ fan, I wonder if these feelings are merely me being “peanut butter and jealous” (one of Sarah’s phrases as quoted to me by Millie) or if others feel this way too. I’d be most grateful to anyone who’d like to chime in with their thoughts on Emmy.

-**-**-**-**-

April 17, 2010 UPDATE: Millie succumbed to Gunga Din fever last night and is now a DFJ convert! :D

-*-*-

And now, we need another link! If you want to add the next link in the chain, here are the rules, as laid out by Wendymoon:

1. Call dibs on doing the next review in the comments. First one to speak up gets it, others will have to wait to join up to the next link in the chain! (Chains usually only link one at a time, after all. It’s not a movie review tree.)

2. Write your own review of another movie (it should be one not yet used in the chain) and post it on your blog. Make sure the link to the previous review is made clear and that you link back to the original post where the chain began (so we can keep track of how the chain grows). The link can be an actor or actress, director, or something more creative (like a theme).

3. Include the rules of how to continue the chain, and let someone else continue it!

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Musings from a Moonspinner

My dear non-fleshie friends Kate and Millie (newly returned from exciting adventures in Sierra Leone!) have been nagging me for a long time to watch the Hayley Mills dream fest The Moonspinners (1964). Well I finally got my chance to see it (thank you so much, Kate!) and boy oh boy were they right about it’s scathing brilliance! I’ll share some of my reactions with you in a lovely picspam.

^the theme: I watched this over again three times before I actually started the film. Such a marvelous song. I was thrilled to find it on YouTube!

^Joan Greenwood and Michael Davis as Aunt Frances and Alexis. I think Michael Davis is a lot like Kate’s brother. Agree or disagree?

^Eli Wallach as the evil Uncle Stratos. A dramatic switch from the last film I saw him in, Babydoll.

^Once of the first good glimpses of Peter McEnery…isn’t he a dish?

^Hayley was SO lucky!

^The famous pink outfit! Kate, Millie & I find it hugely inspiring. I’m already working on a reproduction version of the top in my head.

^Better view of the shirt. See the amazingness? A button front and crazy tie belt. OH, and see who the other lady is? Irene Papas! I only knew her from Zorba the Greek, so I was glad she actually had lines in this film.

^And an amazing swingy back. I bet you are wondering where the belt is! And notice the red canvas shoes…red and pink…hmm. Normally I wouldn’t attempt such a combination, but Hayley really pulls it off.

^Pete is shot in the shoulder of the arm she’s pulling. He’s in huge pain and she pulls his bad arm?! Hayley! What were you thinking?!

^Eli is either really afraid or he’s been running around in the hot Greek sun too much…

^Lovely crazy cats! There are tons of them!

^Well, you’d run too if cats were hissing at you!

^Wow, Hayley Mills with a rifle! She must really love the guy…

^Wolf in sheep’s clothing, maybe?

^This has got to be one of the craziest scenes of all time: Joan Greenwood riding in a hearse with Hayley and Peter in the back, trying to get through a street celebration and being attacked by bizarre revelers!

^EhHEM! Just when did Hayley learn to drive a speedboat?

^Cats are everywhere in this film! Look at this unbelievable cat bed! Lap of luxury for kitty!

^I was so sad when it ended. Did anyone else think it ended rather abruptly?

I highly recommend The Moonspinners, if you get a chance to watch it. It is on DVD (thankfully, and only because it was a Disney movie): Amazon, Half, Ebay.

Happy Thanksgiving darlings! :D

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