Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Classic Movie Atmosphere at Disney's Hollywood Studios

We visit Walt Disney World in Orlando every few years, and I always enjoy the classic Hollywood vibe at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Here are a few photos from our most recent trip showing some of the ways that the park makes classic movie fans feel right at home.

The nod to classic costume designers Adrian and Edith Head was one of my favorite little touches. Replicas of gowns from the 1920s and 1930s could also been seen in many shop windows, although, sadly, the merchandise within the stores tended to be the same old theme park souvenirs. I keep hoping that Studios will add more interesting items to their stores, but we did manage to find some neat Oswald the Lucky Rabbit stuff this trip.

The main entrance area of the park is bright with neon and signs that recall Hollywood's Golden Age, including this Planet Hollywood sign. If only the real Planet Hollywood chain was this cool!

The mock movie posters at the Planet Hollywood shop also pay tribute to classic films. The sci-fi one is clearly a reference to the iconic promo image for Forbidden Planet (1956), while the Flyboys Over Hollywood poster reminds me of both the original and remake versions of The Dawn Patrol. I often wonder how many tourists actually stop to look at these little details, much less know what they mean.

These next two bring to mind Gone with the Wind (1939) and Out of the Past (1947), but they also summarize the whole genres of romance and film noir. I wonder how many old movie posters the designers looked at when they made these?

Every time I visit I notice something I hadn't really seen before, which is one of the reasons going back to Disney is always fun. I hope that by the next time I go, I'll have lots of new classic movie details to appreciate with the TCM updates at The Great Movie Ride!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Great Movie Ride Still Awaits TCM Updates

The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios is due for a makeover as part of a new partnership with Turner Classic Movies, but it appears that classic film fans will have to wait longer than the original target date of Spring 2015 to see the updated look of the attraction. As of May 2015, there is still no sign of the upgrades or TCM's sponsorship of the ride, which takes guests on a whirlwind tour of classic favorites like Singin' in the Rain, Mary Poppins, and The Wizard of Oz.

For those (like myself) who enjoy the nostalgic attraction, the announcement of the TCM partnership was good news all around. The Great Movie Ride has been a staple at the park since 1989, but its focus is decidedly old school compared to more popular rides like Star Tours and The Tower of Terror. Many guests certainly don't get the enthusiasm for old movies, and some treat it like the Studios' version of The Hall of Presidents, i.e. a really good place to take a nap. The TCM partnership signals the park's determination to keep The Great Movie Ride around even though massive renovations are on the horizon at Studios over the next few years.

According to the TCM announcement from November 2014, the refurbishment of The Great Movie Ride will include a new pre-ride video featuring Robert Osborne, a new montage at the end of the ride, and a photo opportunity for guests with a classic movie theme. The queue area will also get TCM branding and new digital movie posters to entertain guests while they wait. While it would be great to have a gift shop offering classic movie themed souvenirs, it's unclear right now whether the photo op area will include anything else that guests can take home from their adventure through film history. (Dear Disney, I do believe in fairies, I'm wishing upon a star, and I want a proper classic movie gift shop!)

While there's a lot of construction and renovation going on all around Walt Disney World right now, it seems that the updates to The Great Movie Ride are somewhat lower on the priority list. At least with the Sorcerer Mickey hat no longer obscuring the view, the ride has better visibility at the center of the park. Let's hope that Robert Osborne and the new TCM trappings will make their appearances soon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Classic Films in Focus: MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948)

Anyone foolish enough to think of building a home should be required to watch Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), in which Cary Grant and Myrna Loy endure all the horrors attendant on such an unpredictable endeavor. Eric Hodgins, who wrote the original novel version of the story, had real-life experience to inspire his tale of construction gone awry, and the film adaptation spares its protagonists no headache, setback, or expense, much to their dismay and the audience's delight. Director H.C. Potter guides Grant and Loy through all the everyday problems of a couple in close quarters as well as the extraordinary difficulties of their quixotic quest to build their dream home in the Connecticut countryside. A great supporting performance from Melvyn Douglas adds to the appeal, with Reginald Denny and Louise Beavers also making memorable appearances.

Cary Grant stars as Jim Blandings, a New York ad man who finds apartment living with his wife and two daughters much too cramped for comfort. Hoping for a better life, he and his wife, Muriel (Myrna Loy), buy a dilapidated and overpriced farmhouse in rural Connecticut, but they soon discover that the unstable relic must be torn down and a new home built in its place. The Blandings start construction on their dream home, despite the disapproval of their friend and lawyer, Bill (Melvyn Douglas), who sees that their additions and changes constantly delay the work and increase the final price. Everything that can go wrong does, and the strain of the experience threatens to drive Jim to distraction, even though his job is on the line for an important ad campaign.

Grant and Loy brilliantly capture the complicated emotions of a couple well beyond the honeymoon phase, still in love but pressed by the forces of daily life. Their early scene in a tiny bathroom is flatly unromantic but completely realistic; the heady thrill of intimacy has been replaced by competition for a little space at the mirror and the chance to take a hot shower. The two Blandings girls, played by Sharyn Moffett and Connie Marshall, also complicate their parents' relationship, and they are just at the age to ruffle their confused father's composure almost constantly. "Bicker, bicker, bicker," says one daughter, assessing her parents' vexed conversation but completely unaware of her own part in creating the conflict. It's easy to see why this family needs more space, but our sympathy for their situation begins to dwindle as we realize just how naive and impractical the Blandings are when it comes to home construction.

The building of the new house almost ruins the couple, both romantically and financially. Neither Jim nor Muriel has much sense about the cost or the problems associated with the project, and they have to find out the hard way. First the original home has to be torn down, then the new home transforms from a modest family dwelling into a rambling palace of additions and alterations. Muriel wants more closets and bathrooms, plus a garden sink and a sewing room, while Jim dreams up a game room and a study. They fail to realize that basic necessities, like a well, might end up being a lot more complicated and expensive to acquire. "You start to build a home and you wind up in the poor house," Jim laments. The stress of the process also brings out Jim's long simmering jealousy of his friend Bill, who was once one of Muriel's college sweethearts. At the climax of the picture, a storm provides a natural complement to the state of Jim's mind, tempest tossed as it is with the construction woes, Muriel's friendship with Bill, and the impending deadline for the Wham Ham campaign. Fortunately for the Blandings, this is a comedy, in which storms are inevitably followed by sunshine and even the worst home construction project will turn out all right.

Be sure to appreciate Louise Beavers in a small but pivotal role as the Blandings' maid, Gussie. H.C. Potter also directed The Shopworn Angel (1938), The Cowboy and the Lady (1938), and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939). See more of Grant and Loy together in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), which also stars a teenage Shirley Temple. Catch Melvyn Douglas at his peak in Ninotchka (1939); he won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars later in his career, for Hud (1963) and Being There (1979). Reginald Denny's career began in the silent era, but he had a recurring role as Algy Longworth in the Bulldog Drummond films, and you'll also find him in Rebecca (1940) and Cat Ballou (1965).