Every year I look forward to the Turner Classic Movies “Summer Under the Stars” because each day a different actor from the classic era is highlighted. Although I may have missed one in the past, this year I am thrilled to finally see a day dedicated to one of my favorite actors: Van Johnson. He isn’t just Lucy’s dance partner from an episode of I Love Lucy– although that is one of my favorites, don’t you agree?
Johnson was charming, handsome, so, so talented, and one of those rare performers who seamlessly went from genre to genre in the 40s and 50s, something that many of this era did not– or at least successfully. But Johnson could do a light romantic comedy, a melodrama, a musical, or a war story amongst others and in each one he brought his own charisma and talent. This Thursday, August 25 is a day dedicated to him and the films that have been selected demonstrate just what an amazing and versatile actor he was. Here are my personal favorites:
10 am EST, 7 am PST
Duchess of Idaho
Also Starring: Esther Williams, John Lund, Paula Raymond
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
This is perhaps my favorite film for both Johnson and his leading lady Esther Williams. A breezy and funny delight, it’s the kind of silly, sweet romantic comedy escapades that so many long for. While Esther’s Christine Duncan is pretending to romance ladies man Douglas Morrison (to make him realize he’s really love with her best friend Ellen) she meets Van’s charming singer Dick Layn and the two are stubborn but clearly smitten with each other. And well things get complicated as they always do. Williams and Johnson made four films together and you can see why – they have an adorable and natural chemistry together. This film is just frothy fun from start to finish – the kind of movie that just makes you smile and feel good.
12 noon EST, 9 am PST
In the Good Old Summertime
Also Starring: Judy Garland, S.Z. Sakall, Spring Byington
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
One of the most remade stories ever, this musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner also stars Judy Garland and takes place at the turn-of-the-century in Chicago and it’s as lovely and sweet as the original. That’s right-before You’ve Got Mail and the other musical adaptation She Loves Me came this picturesque movie. The difference here is that rather than original songs, they use famous songs of the era as the two pen pals who unknowingly fall in love with each other work in a musical shop. The similarities are also wonderful with one of the most famous scenes being nearly word for word as the original and yet just as enjoyable. This is a truly charming film.
1:45 EST, 10:45 am PST
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
Also Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Walker, Phyllis Thaxter
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
This engrossing World War II drama is based on that true story of B25 pilots who volunteered for a secret mission that became known as the “Doolittle Raid.” And while that is successful, complications and tragedy arises for the crews of this mission specifically those played by Johnson and Walker. For anyone who loves history or a compelling drama, this movie is not just about a mission from the war. It’s about the individuals who served bravely, those who helped them in immeasurable ways, and the families who are left behind. Don’t worry, it does have a happy ending –but bittersweet and touching and most especially moving to those wounded in the line of duty.
10 pm EST, 7 pm PST
Miracle in the Rain
Also Starring Jane Wyman
Directed by Rudolph Maté
A melancholy drama about two very lonely souls who meet one rainy day in New York City and soon find a kindred love between them, this is quite the tearjerker. But for those who often feel alone and long for companionship you will most certainly relate. Spiritual aspects are also quite moving and poignant as we see that what with true love miracles can indeed happen.
4:30 am EST, 1:30 am PST
Also Starring: Dorothy McGuire, Ruth Roman, Louis Calhern
Directed by Gottfried Reinhardt
Melodramatic but romantic and hopeful ultimately, this film is about a happily married couple whose peaceful existence is threatened when the wife learns a devastating secret about her husband. Ellen had been ill and lonely all of her life, but when her lifelong friend suddenly shows her love and an offer marriage, she finds happiness she never thought possible. I won’t spoil any more, but regardless to say it may be dramatic but it’s also real in its emotions and restores your faith in people and that love can make you stronger.
If Turner Classic Movies is not available to you, all of these films are also available on DVD for your viewing enjoyment.