TCM discoveries: Some older film surprises

Watching movies on Turner Classic Movies during my recent vacation had a couple of results. I developed a major crush on Gene Kelly, fostered an appreciation for Joan Crawford and “discovered” a new favorite actress.

Yes, I do realize Gene Kelly passed away almost 17 years ago and would be 100+ years old if he was still with us. Doesn’t matter. The crush was created because of his amazing dancing abilities, his handsome countenance and his joie de vivre.

While I had always admired Kelly for “Singing in the Rain” and “An American in Paris,” watching the three editions of “That’s Entertainment” on TCM made me realize how special he was. The man could move. But beyond that, he was a fine singer and a charming actor.

Fred Astaire was wonderful as well. The “That’s Entertainment” compilation films showcased how elegant and smooth Astaire was as a dancer and how appealing he was as an actor.

But Kelly was the one who really won me over, especially as a host/interview subject in “That’s Entertainment” during which his love for cinema shone through.

Sadly, there aren’t any like him around these days.

The appreciation for Joan Crawford also was sparked during the first “That’s Entertainment” when her dancing ability was showcased. Joan Crawford a dancer? She was pretty darn good.

Previously, any time her name was mentioned, it was the “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Joan who came to mind, not the scary looking older woman who was portrayed as a monster in “Mommy Dearest.”

Watching the young, beautiful Joan made me wonder about the years that followed, what turned her into someone who could be parodied as a wire-hanger wielding crazy woman.

She evolved into someone whose own daughter wrote a savage book about her, the source for the aforementioned “Mommy Dearest” film starring Faye Dunaway.

The young Joan did a series of movies in the late 1920s and early 1930s that TCM featured as part of its tribute to her as star of the month for January. The movies were “Our Dancing Daughters” (1928), “Our Modern Maidens” (1929) and “Our Blushing Brides” (1930).

That Joan was radiantly beautiful and intelligent. Her chemistry with the other actors, most notably her future husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr., was amazing.

The middle film, especially, almost seemed like it could have been made recently with the actions of its wild youth cast and its surprising plot point of an unplanned out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Anita Page costarred in those three films. She was an actress I don’t remember having paid attention to before, but after watching her in these movies, I had to look her up on the IMBd.

Born in 1910, Page was hugely popular in the silent era and the early years of talkies, receiving some 10,000 pieces of mail a week in 1929. She RETIRED in 1936, returning to movies decades later, drawing interest from a new generation of movie fans with her stories about filmmaking in the 1920s. She died in 2008, at the age of 98.

Pretty cool stuff.

Joan Crawford will be featured in many movies during this month. If, like me, you only knew the Oscar winner as an older stern figure, check her out on TCM. The young Joan just might surprise you, too.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.