The Color of New: Hollywood in the 1960s

(brief forward: this post is meant to be simply a study of the history of color film from 1939 – 1969.  It is not intended to exclude or demean the importance of any color or black and white films not mentioned herein… and it is CERTAINLY not meant to imply the superiority of one process over the other.)

Film color is not real. We accept it because we have to and because we’re used to it. The sky is not the blue that you see on film. And the green grass is not the green you see on film. I remember once in London stumbling across Michelangelo Antonioni shooting Blow-Up with Carlo Di Palma and they were painting the grass green. And I said to Antonioni, ‘Did you not like the color?’ He said, ‘No, I just want it to look like real green.” — Sidney Lumet, 2007.

I think it fairly safe to make the argument that the idea of a film like Citizen Kane being shot in color is just as outrageous as the idea of Oz being shot in black and white. The reasons being obvious: one would take away the reality of the film, while the other would take away the fantasy.

However, let’s move forward a few decades and kick around the idea of a film like Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde being shot in black and white.  Now, that’s a devastating thought given Burnett Guffey’s lyrical cinematography that has become so much a part of what makes that film great… however, I do not believe that it being shot in black and white would necessarily have detracted from the gritty realism of the film. (Especially had it been in the hands of someone like James Wong Howe…) The reason being, by the late 1960s color film processing had made remarkably sophisticated advancements in technology. Perhaps more than any other film of that era, Bonne and Clyde demonstrates how deeply affecting the realistic rendering of color stock photography had become. A formidable challenge to what had, previously, been commonly accepted as realistic: black and white film.

Faye Dunaway as Bonnie in Arthur Penn's groundbreaking BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)

When Bonnie and Clyde are ambushed by the feds in that final, shocking scene, the gratuitous blood was startlingly real to audiences who, up to then, had always known perfectly well that it was really just ketchup.  Those images were as vivid as any page in the National Geographic, and it is quite fitting indeed that this revelation coincided with the revolution of the “New Holywood” era of filmmaking. The Hollywood studio system was dying and filmmakers were tackling subjects heretofore taboo– and they were doing it in color.

This moment had been subjugated for the better part of twenty years. Rewind, if you will, back to the late 1930s when three-strip Technicolor finally blossomed into its own, and you will find that the obvious argument for this black and white vs color vs reality vs fantasy lies in that powerful year of 1939, with Technicolor’s crowning achievements: The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.

These two films, definitely among the most analyzed in film history, remain a curious anomaly to me. It may sound hyperbolic for me to say that Gone with the Wind, while a three strip Technicolor dream of a film, at the same time would be the last truly realistic color film to come from Hollywood until Technicolor’s dye-transfer process began its fatal fade in the late 1950s.

(I said Technicolor, mind you, so let’s keep CinemaScope out of this. A million posts could, and probably should, spring from this. My argument for this is, obviously, quite up for debate and, hardly being an expert on this history  of color processes I would love feedback!)

The reason for Gone with the Wind’s realism is simple. Under David O. Selznick’s lead, cinematographer Ernest Haller employed lighting techniques used in black and white film: “Selznick also uses shadows to emphasize moments that focus on the relationship between characters in Gone with the Wind, first seen in the form of the looming shadows Scarlett and Melanie cast on the walls of the makeshift hospital. Later, the delivery of Melanie’s baby is lit only with slivers of light that appear between the window slats, the darkness making the scene more intimate and giving it a powerful simplicity.” (SparkNotesEditors)

The split screen below might better illustrate. Remember, both films were produced using the exact same Technicolor technology.

Technicolor's crowning achievements of 1939: THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND.

In the Dorothy shot you can easily see this is very much a 35mm film with its shallow focus– while Dorothy appears beautifully fresh and crisp, the background is reduced to a blur. In the Gone with the Wind shot, likewise, the foreground is of a pristine clarity but the clever use of a matte backdrop keeps the focus startlingly urgent and all encompassing. In many scenes, Gone with the Wind successfully “cheats” technology by giving the illusion of what cinematographer Gregg Toland would legendarily achieve two years later in Citizen Kane with his pioneering work in “deep focus” photography– the full frame being in clean, clear focus.

In the book Selznick’s Vision, Gone with the Wind and Hollywood, author Alan David Vertrees goes a step further. While I’m not exactly in total agreement, I can absolutely can see where he’s coming from on this one: “[With Gone with the Wind] we begin to peer into a movie, rather than perceive it in carefully arranged slices, with the camera flitting from speaker to speaker, and all feminine faces in soft focus … Gone with the Wind is the perfect instance of the new tone, more so than Citizen Kane, because its passions are large and simple, it is full of windswept silhouettes caught against reddening skies… it is overplayed, overwritten and it is  just right.”

So why am I going on about two Technicolor marvels of the late 1930s when this post is about the New Hollywood of the 1960s?

Easy.

Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz are emblematic of a fascinating moment in films history. Color technology, as so monumentally manifested in Gone with the Wind, was indeed capable of achieving surprisingly lifelike renderings. The Wizard of Oz, being a fantasy, emphasized reality with black and white (OK, fine. Sepia. Sticklers.) while color was used to create escapism at its eye-popping best. The fact they were both shot using the same technology, for me, is a fascinating dichotomy:  it is the decisive moment that Hollywood would purposefully, from that point on, choose to employ black and white as a method of expressing  realism, while employing color film as fantasy–for reasons both financial and sociological. Color was  exponentially more expensive to produce and with America at war it was only natural to provide escapism on the grandest scale possible– made manifest in the vivid, deeply indulgent color extravaganzas of the 1940s. Carmen Miranda in black and white? Casablanca in color? I think not!

I’m going to muster up some courage here and make the claim that Gone with the Wind would remain the most deeply human, realistic 3-strip Technicolor film until well into the 1950s. With, of course, certain notable contenders like Drums along the Mohawk and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

John Ford's DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939) and Powell and Pressburger's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943)

(Both war films. Interesting…)

And speaking of Colonel Blimp, I am hereby resisting the urge of getting into discussions about the supreme Jack Cardiff, one of my absolute idols, and the master of black and white realism, James Wong Howe. Instead we will fast-forward 30 years to the real point of this piece.

In Paul Monaco’s excellent book The Sixties, he states that “progress in color motion picture technology during the late 1950s and early 1960s can be accurately summarized as significant. The increased speed and improved color rendition of Kodak’s color negative film stock, in particular, was extraordinarily important to cinematographers and directors. Their improved ability to control the quality of the image when shooting color, and the greater tolerance of the film stock to accommodate various lighting conditions, were clearly positive factors that justified Hollywood’s shift to color production.”

Since the dawn of film, literally, stretching back to the earliest images ever captured on a camera, real life renderings had been expressed in terms of black and white. The Civil War, the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906,  the gritty gangster flicks of the 30s, the occupation of Paris– all were all seen in black and white shadow. For many decades, that is what “real” looked like. The entree of color onto the market was clunky and, like the advent of sound, surrounded with criticism.

That preconceived idea changed dramatically in the 1960s.

Say Monaco: “Long known among cinematographers for its sense of artificiality, escapism, and lightweight genres, color suddenly became perceived in the 1960s as a key for opening up an enormously enriched sense of cinematic realism.”

More sophisticated technology helped.

“What audiences saw on the screen was also vastly improved at the  end of the 1960s, by introduction of liquid gate printing. This laboratory process consisted of completely immersing the final answer print– from which duplicate copies of the film would be made for distributions to the theatres– into a transparent liquid of nearly the same refractive visual index as the clear emulsion and acetate base of the answer print itself. This liquid immersion filled in all the small scratches and abrasions on the answer print’s surface, providing a brighter, clearer and richer picture to fill the screen.”

Was this the result of a creative agenda from Hollywood’s cinematographers and directors? Hardly. It was down to a little thing called television.

When television first came on the scene, it was of course in black and white. Once again, the Hollywood studios had an ace up the sleeve over their frightening competitor, because they had the ability to produce splashy, sexy extravaganzas in “larger than life” color. (i.e., what TV can’t give you, but we can!) But when color television was introduced in 1963, Hollywood had a real problem. America was now watching the daily world revolve around them in color images. The nightly news, their favorite sitcom– color was becoming the new reality. If America could watch a perfectly real Walter Cronkite in color for free, why should it expect to pay $1.50 to watch something in black and white? According to Monaco, “the advent of color television destined the black and white feature film to virtual extinction in the U.S. …. Hollywood’s wholesale shift to color production, then, was essentially a producers’ decision based on commercial assessments of future markets.”

Black and white photography was, in the grand Hollywood tradition, an overnight has-been.

Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in Elia Kazan's SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961)

Catherine Deneuve in Jacques Demy's THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)

Peter O'Toole's baby blues in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

Omar Sharif's baby browns in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)

Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW-UP (1966)

Adorable Judy Geeson in James Clavell's TO SIR, WITH LOVE (1967)

Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in Neil Simon's BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1967)

Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson. Mike Nichols' THE GRADUATE (1967)

Faye Dunaway in Arthur Penn's BONNIE AND CLYDE (1966)

Francois Truffaut's FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966).

Andy Warhol's CHELSEA GIRLS (1966)

Steve McQueen in Norman Jewison's THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968)

Mia Farrow in Roman Polansky's ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

Stanley Kubrick's 1968 epic, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the ultimate buddy flick BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)

Larry, Vivien and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca

Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940).

(This post is in conjunction with the blog Viv and Larry’s Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Blogathon.)

Early in the summer of 1939, when principal photography on David O’Selznick’s soon-to-be masterpiece Gone with the Wind had finally finished, Vivien Leigh boarded a plane and headed to New York to be reunited with Laurence Olivier. She was spotted by gossip columnist Louella Parsons who promptly reported that Olvier had signed on to play the role of Maxim deWinter in the film adaptation of Daphne duMaurier’s novel Rebecca, and that “All of Vivien Leigh’s brave plans to return to England for a stage play will go a-glimmering,… for she is now mentioned for the role of the wife opposite her very good friend Laurence.”

Power producer David O Selznick  bought the rights to DuMaurier’s darkly romantic novel in June 1938, at a time when he was deeply entrenched with pre-production on Gone with the Wind. Alfred Hitchcock was assigned to direct in September of that year (it would be his first Hollywood production and put him on the Selznick payroll) and by May 1939 Laurence Olivier was  brought on board. But it was only after Selznick’s pleading with Ronald Colman to play the part fell through, and Hitchcock ruled out Leslie Howard (“too academic for the romantic angle”) and William Powell (his American accent was too “dangerous.”)

Yet the casting Olivier was a stroke of brilliance.

Larry as Du Maurier's tortured murderer Maxim de Winter

Larry’s well known ambivalent attitude towards Hollywood filmmaking manifested itself in Maxim’s un-apologetically obstinate nature. The casting process deeply obsessed Selznick (see Gone with the Wind) which is why the role of the nameless Mrs. de Winter had, by June of 1939, still not been cast.

If you asked Larry, however, the casting was quite obvious. Vivien Leigh, his girlfriend of two years, and the lead in Selznick’s baby Gone with the Wind, was going to play Mrs. de Winter. Larry and Vivien were still several months off from having their deeply passionate affair recognized by law (they were in divorce proceedings with their respective spouses) and the opportunity to make a film together, as they were both now working in Hollywood, carried away their romantic hearts with excitement.

The problem, of course, was that there was no way that Leigh, fresh from her role as Scarlett, would have been taken seriously as the naive, reticent,  self-conscious Mrs. deWinter. Had Vivien’s film career  developed differently, I personally feel that Leigh did possess the fragility necessary for the role– but in June 1939 the role was simply not right for her.

And Selznick told her so– as well as Larry– over two cables sent to their ocean liner while the couple vacationed.

According to Terry Coleman’s biography, Olivier, “Selznick went on for three hundred words, assuring her that the same care, patience and stubbornness about accurate casting that had put her in “the most talked–of role of all time in what everyone who has seen it agrees is the greatest picture ever made,”  made it necessary for him to tell her that she would be as wrong for the role in Rebecca as the role would be for her. Signed, “affectionately, David.”

He was more direct with Olivier:

“I know you must be disappointed, but Vivien’s anxiety to play role has in my opinion been largely if not entirely due to her desire to do a picture with you.” She hadn’t been interested until she knew he was playing Maxim and they would both be working in Hollywood. The cable was signed “Cordially, David.”

Vivien circa 1939. At the time, her heart beat only for Larry, and his only for her.

But there was something else.

David O Selznick had fallen in love with Olivia de Havilland’s little sister, Joan Fontaine.

Their relationship, according to most modern sources, is supposed to have remained to platonic, but there is no questioning Selznick’s obvious affection for the pretty blonde. Ever the perfectionist, it is to Selznick’s credit that he did not cast Fontaine straight away– he did have reservations about her ability– but finally informed her that she had been cast as Mrs. de Winter and to please report for fittings straight after the Labor Day holiday, 1939.

As history has amply recorded, Olivier was far from happy about the decision. It would be the second film in a row that he was to have a contentious relationship with his leading lady (his work with Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights, off screen, was fraught with tearful arguments) and he made no attempt to hide his displeasure with Fontaine.

Although, as history has also recorded, perhaps it was less Larry’s moody brooding on set that set Fontaine so terribly off her guard, and more Hitchcock’s capitalizing of the ill feelings on set and manipulating her accordingly.

Fontaine later said that “[Hitchcock] was a Svengali. He controlled me totally. He took me aside and whispered, ‘Now kid, you go in there and you do this and that.’ And then he would say, “do you know what so-and-so said about you today? Do you that Olivier doesn’t want you in this role? Well never you mind  you just listen to me….He seemed to relish the cast not liking one another, actor for actor, by the end of the film.

All of this is not meant to condone Olivier’s un-sporting behavior at having lost out to working with his beloved, but it is to perhaps put it in to context. Perhaps, more than anything, it is necessary to step back and understand precisely how passionate Vivien and Larry’s relationship was at that particular point in time. Still illicit in legal terms, their love had been gestating and blossoming into an extraordinarily passionate relationship– unhealthy in some ways, very healthy and very needed in others– the fact of which is made quite evident in surviving letters and telegrams from the 1939 period.

For example, Larry penned the following letter of excruciating remorse at having missed a phone call from her not long before his being cast as Maxim de Winter:

I was too miserable even to cry. I was dying to ring up and say, O Vivling my darling forgive me, please forgive me. I’m so sorry, Mummy darling.  My throat does ache for you so my beloved darling Vivien child, Mary child, O how I reverence you, wrap you in mental cotton wool and put you on the mantelpiece and burn candles to you.

Vivien and Larry as Romeo and Juliet

This is the sort of love we’re talking about here, and in light of this it is easier to understand the stormy nature of Olivier’s behavior. Watching the film today, with Hitchcock’s meticulously calculated long shadows and startling closeups, the tremulous back story really serves it well. The unease between Maxim and Mrs. de Winter keeps the viewer on tenterhooks for nearly all of the film– it is, indeed, only in the final minutes that the cold melts from Larry’s deep, stormy eyes and we can actually feel the affection between the two.

Had Vivien been by Larry’s side, it would have taken a greater actor even than Olivier to pretend that he was, even in the smallest sense, not thoroughly enraptured with her. Because, regardless of how their relationship would end, for this period in their lives Vivien and Larry were not so much a couple as they were one.

(The pair would go on to produce Romeo and Juliet on Broadway not long after, a critical and financial failure, and then return to Hollywood to film That Hamilton Woman in 1941– a great financial success.)

VivAndLarry is a classy, sophisticated blog dedicated to the life, love and art of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. The Pictorial is a major fan of the blog’s truly original, unique and reverent work and we are proud to have been able to participate in their Blogathon!

Larry, Vivien and Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940).

(This post is in conjunction with the blog Viv and Larry’s Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Blogathon.)

Early in the summer of 1939, when principal photography on David O’Selznick’s soon-to-be masterpiece Gone with the Wind had finally finished, Vivien Leigh boarded a plane and headed to New York to be reunited with Laurence Olivier. She was spotted by gossip columnist Louella Parsons who promptly reported that Olvier had signed on to play the role of Maxim deWinter in the film adaptation of Daphne duMaurier’s novel Rebecca, and that “All of Vivien Leigh’s brave plans to return to England for a stage play will go a-glimmering,… for she is now mentioned for the role of the wife opposite her very good friend Laurence.”

Power producer David O Selznick  bought the rights to DuMaurier’s darkly romantic novel in June 1938, at a time when he was deeply entrenched with pre-production on Gone with the Wind. Alfred Hitchcock was assigned to direct in September of that year (it would be his first Hollywood production and put him on the Selznick payroll) and by May 1939 Laurence Olivier was  brought on board. But it was only after Selznick’s pleading with Ronald Colman to play the part fell through, and Hitchcock ruled out Leslie Howard (“too academic for the romantic angle”) and William Powell (his American accent was too “dangerous.”)

Yet the casting Olivier was a stroke of brilliance.

Larry as Du Maurier's tortured murderer Maxim de Winter

Larry’s well known ambivalent attitude towards Hollywood filmmaking manifested itself in Maxim’s un-apologetically obstinate nature. The casting process deeply obsessed Selznick (see Gone with the Wind) which is why the role of the nameless Mrs. de Winter had, by June of 1939, still not been cast.

If you asked Larry, however, the casting was quite obvious. Vivien Leigh, his girlfriend of two years, and the lead in Selznick’s baby Gone with the Wind, was going to play Mrs. de Winter. Larry and Vivien were still several months off from having their deeply passionate affair recognized by law (they were in divorce proceedings with their respective spouses) and the opportunity to make a film together, as they were both now working in Hollywood, carried away their romantic hearts with excitement.

The problem, of course, was that there was no way that Leigh, fresh from her role as Scarlett, would have been taken seriously as the naive, reticent,  self-conscious Mrs. deWinter. Had Vivien’s film career  developed differently, I personally feel that Leigh did possess the fragility necessary for the role– but in June 1939 the role was simply not right for her.

And Selznick told her so– as well as Larry– over two cables sent to their ocean liner while the couple vacationed.

According to Terry Coleman’s biography, Olivier, “Selznick went on for three hundred words, assuring her that the same care, patience and stubbornness about accurate casting that had put her in “the most talked–of role of all time in what everyone who has seen it agrees is the greatest picture ever made,”  made it necessary for him to tell her that she would be as wrong for the role in Rebecca as the role would be for her. Signed, “affectionately, David.”

He was more direct with Olivier:

“I know you must be disappointed, but Vivien’s anxiety to play role has in my opinion been largely if not entirely due to her desire to do a picture with you.” She hadn’t been interested until she knew he was playing Maxim and they would both be working in Hollywood. The cable was signed “Cordially, David.”

Vivien circa 1939. At the time, her heart beat only for Larry, and his only for her.

But there was something else.

David O Selznick had fallen in love with Olivia de Havilland’s little sister, Joan Fontaine.

Their relationship, according to most modern sources, is supposed to have remained to platonic, but there is no questioning Selznick’s obvious affection for the pretty blonde. Ever the perfectionist, it is to Selznick’s credit that he did not cast Fontaine straight away– he did have reservations about her ability– but finally informed her that she had been cast as Mrs. de Winter and to please report for fittings straight after the Labor Day holiday, 1939.

As history has amply recorded, Olivier was far from happy about the decision. It would be the second film in a row that he was to have a contentious relationship with his leading lady (his work with Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights, off screen, was fraught with tearful arguments) and he made no attempt to hide his displeasure with Fontaine.

Although, as history has also recorded, perhaps it was less Larry’s moody brooding on set that set Fontaine so terribly off her guard, and more Hitchcock’s capitalizing of the ill feelings on set and manipulating her accordingly.

Fontaine later said that “[Hitchcock] was a Svengali. He controlled me totally. He took me aside and whispered, ‘Now kid, you go in there and you do this and that.’ And then he would say, “do you know what so-and-so said about you today? Do you that Olivier doesn’t want you in this role? Well never you mind  you just listen to me….He seemed to relish the cast not liking one another, actor for actor, by the end of the film.

All of this is not meant to condone Olivier’s un-sporting behavior at having lost out to working with his beloved, but it is to perhaps put it in to context. Perhaps, more than anything, it is necessary to step back and understand precisely how passionate Vivien and Larry’s relationship was at that particular point in time. Still illicit in legal terms, their love had been gestating and blossoming into an extraordinarily passionate relationship– unhealthy in some ways, very healthy and very needed in others– the fact of which is made quite evident in surviving letters and telegrams from the 1939 period.

For example, Larry penned the following letter of excruciating remorse at having missed a phone call from her not long before his being cast as Maxim de Winter:

I was too miserable even to cry. I was dying to ring up and say, O Vivling my darling forgive me, please forgive me. I’m so sorry, Mummy darling.  My throat does ache for you so my beloved darling Vivien child, Mary child, O how I reverence you, wrap you in mental cotton wool and put you on the mantelpiece and burn candles to you.

Vivien and Larry as Romeo and Juliet

This is the sort of love we’re talking about here, and in light of this it is easier to understand the stormy nature of Olivier’s behavior. Watching the film today, with Hitchcock’s meticulously calculated long shadows and startling closeups, the tremulous back story really serves it well. The unease between Maxim and Mrs. de Winter keeps the viewer on tenterhooks for nearly all of the film– it is, indeed, only in the final minutes that the cold melts from Larry’s deep, stormy eyes and we can actually feel the affection between the two.

Had Vivien been by Larry’s side, it would have taken a greater actor even than Olivier to pretend that he was, even in the smallest sense, not thoroughly enraptured with her. Because, regardless of how their relationship would end, for this period in their lives Vivien and Larry were not so much a couple as they were one.

(The pair would go on to produce Romeo and Juliet on Broadway not long after, a critical and financial failure, and then return to Hollywood to film That Hamilton Woman in 1941– a great financial success.)

VivAndLarry is a classy, sophisticated blog dedicated to the life, love and art of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. The Pictorial is a major fan of the blog’s truly original, unique and reverent work and we are proud to have been able to participate in their Blogathon!

Sidney Sheldon, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and the Lost Art of Dialogue

Opposites Attract: Myrna Loy and Cary Grant

The name Sidney Sheldon might be more memorable to some for the popcorn-ready murder mysteries that clogged The New York Times Bestseller lists in the 80s and 90s. He is, after all, the sixth best-selling author of all time. But for the first 50 years of his life, Sheldon was a screenwriter. (Which explains his subsequent success as an author– to quote Sunset Blvd., he “knew all the plots.”) After serving in WWII and a successful stab at Broadway, Sheldon came to MGM where his first big gig was 1947’s The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

Originally entitled Suddenly It’s Spring, the title was changed on the young writer at the last minute. From Sheldon’s autobiography The Other Side of Me:

“I’m changing the name,” said David O. Selznick.

I was listening. “What are you going to call it?”

“The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.”

I looked at him a moment thinking he was joking. He was serious.

“David, no one is going to pay money to see a picture called The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer.”

Fortunately it turned out I was wrong.

(By the way, The Other Side of Me, is a rollicking, riotous account of studio-era Hollywood, and a definite must in any film lover’s library.)

The film is a screwball comedy about a hilarious love triangle between an older sister (Myrna Loy), a younger sister (Shirley Temple) and a hapless handsome bachelor (Cary Grant). The shoot was not an easy one, owing to a rift between Cary Grant and director Irving Reis. Grant wanted Leo McCarey to direct the picture (understandably so, given McCarey’s history with Grant and his sterling reputation) and a state of constant tension prevailed on set between Grant and Reis. But the result was gold, and what’s more, it won Sheldon an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Little wonder why.

The script is whip-smart and charges like a runaway locomotive. Chock a block full of witty one-liners and searing side-jabs, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a solid lesson in what has, sadly, become something of a lost art: dialogue.

The film’s most famous moment is probably a charming exchange in which Grant, who has been forced to pose as bobby-soxer Shirley Temple’s beau under the jurisdiction of Judge Myrna Loy and psychiatrist Ray Collins, takes on the persona of a gum-chewing, slang spewing high-schooler with his nonsensical teenage hyperbole:

Grant: “You remind me of a man.”

Temple: “What man?”

Grant: “The man with the power.”

Temple: “What power?”

Grant: “The power of Hoodoo.”

Temple: ” Who do?”

Grant: “You do.”

Temple: “Do what?

Grant: “Remind me of a man!”

(Immortally revisited by David Bowie in the 80s cult classic Labyrinth… something deserving of its own blog post altogether.)

It is an entirely ridiculous moment, yet altogether delightful, and is really quite a feather in Sidney Sheldon’s cap: not everyone has the terribly shrewd ability to so closely knit fluffy whimsy with striking wit.

But for me, the piece de resistance is the delirious 6 minute confrontation at the climax of the film: three separate story lines interweaving, deliciously savoring each others ridiculousness, furiously fast and relentlessly sharp. It’s a superbly layered stretch of dialogue that, for me, is really one of the most finely written comedic scenes ever.

Mynra Loy and Cary Grant attempt an innocent evening together to smooth their rocky relationship, only to be busted by Loy’s highly jealous little sister.

It is pure cinematic bliss… if you know how to listen.