#105 Ace in the Hole

Watched: May 7 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Richard Benedict

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 51min

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Chuck Tatum (Douglas) is a big city journalist who keeps getting sacked for various offences, such as sleeping with other people’s wives and generally being difficult. With many bridges burned, he gets a job in a small Albuquerque paper where he dreams of getting a big story to facilitate his return to the big city where he feels he belongs.

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Chuck’s not too concerned with the small town newspaper’s motto

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On the way to cover a rattlesnake hunt, Tatum and young photographer Herbie Cook (Arthur) happen across a cave in and a blonde, and Tatum smells a story. He establishes himself as a hero by going into the cave to talk to Leo (Benedict), the man who is trapped there. Tatum decides to milk the story for all it is worth, abandoning the rattlesnake hunt and convincing the sheriff to take his time digging the poor trapped man out.

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After all, being trapped in a cold and musty cave for days on end has never hurt anyone

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The story of Leo trapped in the cave goes viral, 1950s style, and people and reporters come from all over the country to show their support and/or get in on the action. Leo’s disillusioned wife Lorraine (Sterling), the aforementioned blonde, abandons her plan of leaving her trapped husband and instead starts charging admission money for the cliffs, which essentially turn into a (slightly less drugged up) ’50s Woodstock.

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These two are sort of a great match

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This film was fantastic! Tatum is cynical and full of himself, he makes horrible, selfish decisions and he takes no responsibility for his actions. Instead, he tries to take the high ground with Lorraine as his actions have devastating consequences, and he start blaming the spectators and the other reporters for everything that happens. Absolutely zero responsibility taken there.

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“This chin does not make mistakes!”

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Another new favourite of ours, we really recommend Ace in the Hole to anyone who likes a good film. Or a good chin dimple.

What we learned: There are a lot of hard boiled eggs in the world, and Chuck is 20 minutes.

Next time: An American in Paris (1951)

#104 A Place in the Sun

Watched: May 13 2017

Director: George Stevens

Starring: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters

Year: 1951

Runtime: 2h 02min

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George Eastman (Clift) is hitchhiking to see his rich uncle who has promised him a job in his bathing suit factory. He is given an entry level job and is expressly forbidden to mix with the girls working there. So the first thing he does is flirt with colleague Alice Tripp (Winters) and they soon start a secret relationship.

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So inconspicuous

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Not long after, George’s ambition and family ties get him promoted. He moves through the ranks both professionally and socially with an invitation to one of his rich and powerful family’s parties. There, he meets wealthy socialite Angela Vickers (Taylor) and he falls in love with her, but not before impregnating his working class girlfriend. Apparently his religious mother never taught him about protection…

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Who can resist a girl with cake, though?

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With his new girl happily unaware of his relationship status (it’s complicated), and his old girl demanding marriage, George is torn between his guilt and desire to do the right thing, and his ambition and attraction to Angela.

1951: Film stars Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift (1920-1966) star in the Paramount melodrama 'A Place In The Sun'.
When faced with the choice between a girl who packs bathing suits and one who wears them…

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A Place in the Sun has illegitimate pregnancies, ambition, love triangles, lots of foreshadowing, loose morals (and we’re not talking about Alice here), and a suspenseful scene in a boat which reminded us a great deal of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Even our dog was transfixed by this one, although that could have been due to the soundtrack dogs barking throughout some of the more tense scenes.

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It’s also possible the dog was outraged by Elizabeth Taylor wearing his friend as a cape

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What we learned: Don’t get a girl pregnant when you are secretly in love with another girl. That’ll get you into all sorts of trouble.

Next time: Ace in the Hole (1951)

#103 The Asphalt Jungle

Watched: May 06 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Barry Kelley, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe, Marc Lawrence

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 52min

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Dix Handley (Hayden) has three things in life: a gambling problem, a potential girlfriend named Doll (Hagen), and a dream to buy back his family’s old farm. However, he tends to gamble away all his money whenever he has some, so the family farm seems far from his reach, and he’s not necessarily as into Doll as she is into him.

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Doll and Dix. There’s a (possibly disastrous) movie title in there somewhere…

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When Doc Riedenschneider (Jaffe) is released from prison with a plan for a big caper, he goes to see an acquaintance of Dix’s for funding. Dix and Doc (another potential title, by the way) cross paths and Doc is adamant that Dix is the right man to be the muscle in the heist. This job will give him the money for a farm, so Dix agrees and joins Doc’s team along with a safecracker and a getaway driver, as well as financial backers Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern) and Cobby (Lawrence).

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You just know they’re doing criminal stuff when there’s a pack of cigarettes on the bed, a bottle of booze on the table, and two of them have removed their jackets.

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While the robbery itself goes off with only one small hitch, the double crossings start pretty much right away. With the police chasing them and everyone backstabbing each other, who will come out of this alive?

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And who will get to wear the pretty, pretty necklaces?

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A criminal who wants a quiet, peaceful life; a high-stakes heist with a cast of hand picked experts; a doomed romance; a corrupt businessman with a gorgeous blonde mistress; a dirty cop and double crossings galore – this movie has it all. Clichés they may be, but when they’re done this well it doesn’t really matter. Films like this are the reason people keep coming back to the same clichés – sometimes they really work.

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Like blondes. Blondes always work to confuse young investigators. We’re not sure of which gender that’s most condemning…

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What we learned: There’s no honour among thieves. Also, ’50s slang for explosives is “soup”. It’s fun stuff like this which keeps us coming back. (Well, that, and the obligatory dance/music scenes in Film Noir.)

Next time: A Place in the Sun (1951)

#102 Sunset Boulevard

Watched: April 30 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Thematically linked to All About Eve, though centred on Hollywood rather than Broadway, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of broke screenwriter Joe Gillis (Holden) and former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Swanson), who embark on a strange and ill-fated relationship when he accidentally seeks refuge in her decrepit Hollywood mansion on the day of her chimp’s funeral.

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No, we did not make that up.

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When Norma learns that Joe is a writer, she asks him to read through and rewrite her script for her epic comeback Salome and, being down on his luck and about to return home to take an office job, Joe agrees and moves into the faded star’s equally faded mansion.

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Despite the state of the mansion, the floors are waxed to perfection and the quartet has been polished for the occasion

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Joe soon gets used to the lifestyle offered to him by the delusional Norma. Even though he understands that her aspirations to return to the screen are completely unrealistic and he knows that to the outside world she’s a has-been, he, like Norma’s creepy butler Max (von Stroheim), plays along and feeds into her false sense of relevance.

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That’s not all he feeds into if you get our drift… He’s a kept man, is what we’re saying.

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As Norma’s delusion of grandeur increases, Joe’s satisfaction with his life of leisure decreases, and he starts working on the side with Betty Schaefer (Olson) with whom he collaborates on an original screenplay. Norma starts to suspect that her boytoy is getting some on the side, and she is not happy…

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“I let him watch my movies with me and this is how he repays me?!?”

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Now, this film is a classic for a reason. It’s endlessly quotable with a Gothic setting and extremely memorable characters, in particular the unstable, possessive, explosive, toxic and fabulous Norma Desmond. Even our old favourite Buster Keaton makes an appearance, as do old-timey stars Hedda Hopper, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson and, famously, Cecil B. DeMille.

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Guess who’s ready for her close-up…

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Sunset Boulevard is a sort of Gothic Film Noir and we loved it completely. It’s one of those films you’ve seen parodied, referenced and referred to, and heard quoted, so many times that you start thinking you’ve actually seen it, but in our case that turned out to be false (for some reason, although this is right up our alley). There’s madness, love, satire and men who (once again) feel they need to make hard decisions for women who love them, without giving them the unbiased facts and letting them choose for themselves. Loved, loved, loved it.

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Ah – Buster. We still love you dearly.

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What we learned: Great stars have great pride.

Next time: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

#96 All About Eve

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring: Bette Davies, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe

Year: 1950

Runtime: 2h 18min

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While the title states this is All About Eve, this classic is in reality all about Margo Channing (Davies), an aging theatre actress, and her circle of friends. The show starts with the eponymous Eve (Baxter) winning a prestigious theatre award with Margo in attendance, looking very much less than impressed. We then flash back to their first meeting and get to see what has unfolded up until this point and what brought them there.

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“I’d like to thank all the people I’ve screwed over and used on my way here”

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After her show one night, Margo’s friend Karen (Holm) invites a devoted fan backstage to meet her hero. The fan introduces herself as Eve and tells her tragic life story, charming both women in the process. Margo, sympathising with her visitor, offers her a home and a job as a personal assistant of sorts.

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Leave it to Bette Davies to make even post-show clean-ups look glamorous

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As Eve and Margo grow closer, Margo starts to see through Eve’s quiet, unassuming demeanor and realises that she is in fact an ambitious young actress who works on manipulating everyone around her to make it to the top. Coupled with Margo’s own insecurities about aging, this leads to some irrational (but fabulous!) behaviour on her part, as she struggles to convince those around her of Eve’s true nature.

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Luckily for Margo, she has the most sarcastic eyes in human history and she makes them work for her!

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With the exception of critic Addison DeWitt (Sanders), the men are generally bad at seeing through Eve, while the women catch on to her a lot quicker. In a way though, Eve is just manipulating a system made by men in which she has very little actual power. The ageism, especially towards women, in the entertainment industry comes across very clearly in this film and even the strong Margo eventually more or less gives up her career and marries her longtime boyfriend despite teasing her best friend about her life as a housewife.

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No woman is truly happy until she has bagged herself a man [citation needed]

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Despite being almost 70 years old, All About Eve never feels old or outdated. It’s a drama with elements of thriller and a lot of comedy, and the two hour run time flies by. As good, and as beautiful, as Baxter is, Bette Davies is easily the star of the film, and we absolutely loved her. A classic for a reason, this is one of those films which everyone should watch at least once. If this isn’t enough to peak your interest (if you haven’t already heard of the film, you philistine!), there’s also an early appearance from Marilyn Monroe. Should seal the deal, we think.

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We end with our new game: Spot The Monroe!

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What we learned: Meeting stalkery fans probably isn’t the best idea… Also, fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night!

Next time: D.O.A. (1950)

#91 Criss Cross

Watched: March 20 2017

Director: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Steve Thompson (Lancaster) has returned to Los Angeles after a year’s absence, and he quickly reconnects with ex-wife Anna (De Carlo) – the main reason he left town a year earlier. While they seem to be ready to start their relationship again, Anna is also pursued by local gangster Slim Dundee (Duryea) and after a series of miscommunications with her ex-husband as well as pride on both their parts, she ends up marrying Dundee.

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Her new marriage leads to a lot of sneaking around dark parking lots with her ex. That’s what you get for marrying money instead of…whatever it is Steve is to her. Passion perhaps?

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When the lovers are caught in Steve’s house, he tries to cover up their affair by suggesting to Anna’s criminal husband that they join forces for a heist. As an armoured truck driver, Steve offers to be an inside man on a pay roll robbery as long as no one gets hurt in the process. What could possibly go wrong in this scenario?

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Alarm bells should have rung when everyone else showed up at the party in variations of this outfit

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Criss Cross explores a lot of the typical Noir tropes, such as the good guy whose fate is sealed through a mix of circumstances, bad decisions and, of course, the love for a Dame. In addition, there’s the usual: flashbacks, heists, double-crossings, chain-smoking, heavy drinking, gorgeous dresses, the protagonist’s voice-over, and a gradually darker and darker story line.

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As pictured here, Criss Cross also features the typical Noir trope The Decorative Lampshade. Classic!

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The Dame here is fairly innocent and nice compared to a few others we’ve encountered so far, although looks can be as deceiving as a Dame. Anna almost seems another victim – of men in her case, who treat her fairly crappily and might be to blame for her Dameyness (totally a word!), though some of the responsibility might lie with her (her alternative may have been to end up like the barfly in the Round Up). Her descent into victimization may be just a side effect of her learning that her new husband is not as easy to manipulate and control as her ex, but it may also be that Steve (and the audience) are given a glimpse into why she is who she is.

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Bruises are an easy way to evoke sympathy in both exes and audiences (which does not mean the sympathy isn’t justified, by the way).

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Likewise, Steve is not as much of an anti-hero as many other Noir characters – apart from his obsession with Anna (and his tendency to fight with her), he seems to be a fairly ordinary man with a normal family and a steady, average job.

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Until he starts planning heists, that is. As far as we know, that’s not completely normal. Well, perhaps planning them is, but going through with them is another story!

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All in all, we thought this was another wonderful and suspenseful Noir from Robert Siodmak, a master of the genre. Great movie – great rhumba music, courtesy of Esy Morales and his Rhumba Band. Good times!

What we learned: When you Double-Cross a Double-Crosser… It’s a Criss-Cross! Also, organizing a heist to cover up an affair may not be the best idea…

Next time: Jour de Fête (1949)

#90 Caught

Watched: March 11 2017

Director: Max Ophüls

Starring: Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason, Robert Ryan

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Leonora Eames (Bel Geddes) has one ambition in life: to go to Charm School so that she can be eligible to marry a rich, upper-class man. After saving up all her money to attend said school, she gets a job modelling clothes in a store which, through a series of (un)fortunate events leads to her meeting Smith Ohlrig (Ryan), the epitome of the rich bachelor.

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As you can see, she is instantly comfortable in his company

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Ohlrig marries his model more to prove he will than because of any true affection for her, and as soon as they are married, she starts to see his true nature. Rather than a wife, he treats her as property – he expects her to be at his beck and call at every hour of the day and even embarresses her in front of his friends and co-workers. To Leonora’s credit, she realises that no amount of money is worth this kind of treatment and she leaves her abusive husband.

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As the spoiled man-child he is, Ohlrig’s reaction is to ignore everything not going his way and play his pinball machine instead.

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Though not divorced, Leonora is now on her own and gets a job as a receptionist in a small doctor’s office, where she meets Dr Larry Quinada (Mason). For once, she is in the company of a man who expects more from her than being arm candy – she must give her all to her job and show that she can learn. After a somewhat rocky start, she realises that she is capable of more than being a charming wife

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Unlike Ohlrig, Quinada is looking for a woman of substance, not flirty “charm girls”

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However, despite the lack of love in their marriage, Ohlrig has no intentions of giving his estranged wife a divorce, and his treatment of her becomes more and more brutal throughout the film. In addition, Larry is unaware of her marital status as she is afraid to reveal her real identity to him. Will she be able to escape this mess?

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And what’s going on here? Watch Caught to find out!

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Caught is a suspenseful noir which we completely loved. While Leonora’s ambition at the start of the film is questionable, it seems as though this is something she has been told to do, more than something she wants deep down. She is reluctant to go to parties she’s invited to, and she is weary of the sort of men who invite random models to parties. Her readiness to leave her rich husband without a penny also speaks to her true nature. She’s sweet and likable although a bit irresolute and helpless in the beginning.

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Until she starts flashing people, that is

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It’s a great watch with an interesting ending (which we won’t spoil) that may have been even more controversial to a 1940s audience than it is today. A very good, somewhat unusual noir with great performances – kind of like Citizen Kane from the wife’s perspective in a lot of ways. Although parts of Citizen Kane is also from the wives’ perspective so it’s not a perfect comparison… Suffice to say – we loved it!

What we learned: The only reason we haven’t married rich yet is because no one ever sent us to Charm School. Damn our equal opportunity, sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves country! Also, money alone isn’t everything.

Next time: Criss Cross (1949)

#87 The Fallen Idol

Watched: February 16 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Michèle Morgan, Sonia Dresdel

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 35min

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A recent addition to the list, The Fallen Idol did not disappoint. French ambassador’s son Phillipe (Henrey) is left home alone with his good friend and idol butler Baines (Richardson) and his less pleasant wife (Dresdel) for a few days. Like his namesake (and also ambassador’s son?) in Venom (1981), Phillipe has a penchant for snakes which Mrs Baines is not particularly impressed with.

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For supper: fried snake!

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Mrs Baines quickly establishes herself as an antagonist by killing the boy’s snake, and it comes as no surprise then that her husband is having an affair (she may have killed his snake too, if you know what we mean). Phillipe comes across Baines and girlfriend Julie (Morgan) although he is too young to figure out what their relationship is and assumes that Julie is Baines’ niece.

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Phillipe crashes their secret rendez-vous in a scene very reminiscent of Brief Encounter

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After Mrs Baines denies her husband a divorce, the unhappy spouses each manipulate Phillipe to learn and/or hide secrets and the poor kid is caught in the middle of the sordid affairs of two grown people who should know better than to involve him. As their conflict escalates, so does the situation – Mrs Baines falls down the stairs and dies. Phillipe, having witnessed a fight immediately preceding the fall, runs away and right into the hands of a (very clever and kind) police officer.

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The boy also runs into the arms of a sweet prostitute, but again is too young to truly appreciate the experience.

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Police officers investigate the death of Mrs Baines, and Phillipe, trying to protect his friend, weaves a web of lies which does more damage than good, and the last half of the film is a tense investigative affair which we found almost unbearable. The relationship between Baines and Phillipe will most likely never be the same, and Phillipe’s innocence is also lost forever. And not because of the prostitute.

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Because of the dead-wife-who-Baines-kinda-hated thing

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The Fallen Idol is a great and tense drama, beautifully shot with a very dramatic score. Although we must admit, knowing that Mrs Baines would fall down the stairs (it says so right on the DVD cover), we spent the first half of the film betting on when it would happen. Every time she walked up or down the stairs, we were at the edge of our seats, waiting for her to die (you will not believe the amount of times that woman survives a trip up or down the stairs!). We loved it!

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That poor kid is traumatised for life, though

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What we learned: A great many things. Do not involve children in your sordid marital drama. Admitting to an affair is better than a murder charge. Also, WTF is “Nosegay”? And where can we get some?

Next time: The Red Shoes (1948)

#85 Oliver Twist

Watched: February 22 2017

Director: David Lean

Starring: John Howard Davies, Alec Guinness, Robert Newton, Kay Walsh, Henry Stephenson

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 50min

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We assume (perhaps mistakenly, but still) that most people have some idea of the plot of Dickens’ 1838 novel Oliver Twist, and so we’ll keep our plot summary to a minimum. Suffice to say, Oliver Twist (Davies) is a poor orphan who is brought up in an abusive workhouse and who, through a series of unfortunate events, ends up alone on the streets of London. He takes up with a band of thieving boys, led by Fagin (Guinness), and the inexperienced Oliver is promptly arrested on his first outing.

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Fagin cannot accept responsibility though – he did after all spend upwards of five minutes training the boy before sending him out with Dodger

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Oliver is acquitted, falls ill, and ends up in the care of Mr Brownlow who takes him in as his own. But what is their connection? It turns out they are more connected than they originally assumed…

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Or perhaps Oliver is just like us, took one look at that library and decided to stay forever

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Meanwhile, Fagin and Bill Sikes (Newton), a brutal man who runs the show, are freaking out, worried that Oliver will blow their whole operation. They therefore kidnap him to keep him quiet, but Nancy (Walsh) feels bad for both Oliver and Brownlow and decides to snitch. How will this all end?

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Ultimately, Nancy forgot that snitches get stitches…

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From the ominous beginning – storm, thorns and torrential rain – to the suspenseful ending, David Lean’s Oliver Twist is a great watch. Lean’s version is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel although, as with all adaptations, there are fewer details and some parts of the book are only alluded to, changed, or left out completely.

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We love the way to Fagin’s lair

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The film is beautiful and atmospheric with gorgeous sets, a great score, wonderful performances and (naturally) Dickensian characters (including the somewhat racially offensive Fagin). We recommend it both to lovers of the novel as well as those who cannot be bothered reading it but still want to pretend they have.

What we learned: The things some people will do for financial gain… Also, lynch mobs are terrifying, whether in the flesh as in 19th century London, or online as in now.

Next time: Rope (1948)

#84 Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves

Watched: February 12 2017

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 29min

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In post-war Rome, Antonio Ricci (Maggiorani) is experiencing the Poverty Catch-22: he is (finally) offered a good job, but the job requires a bicycle which he has pawned to provide for his family and cannot reclaim until his first paycheck. Which he won’t get without his bike. Luckily for Antonio he has a good wife, Maria (Carell), who sells their sheets to retrieve his bicycle. With his mode of transportation back, Antonio is set to start his new job, putting up posters of glamorous stars around the city.

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The job also requires expert balancing skills… Biking around with this gear is seriously impressive!

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As promising as the beginning is – the tale of a man who works his way out of poverty after someone gave a break – we just know that something terrible will happen. And of course, as the title implies, the bicycle is stolen. On Antonio’s first day, no less. He gives chase, but the thief’s cohorts distract him and send him down the wrong path. He reports the theft to the police, but they do not consider this case a priority. All Antonio can do to keep his job and make a living for himself and his family is to go look for the bike himself.

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Finding a bike in a city of millions isn’t made easier by their decision to inspect every possible bike in detail

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He takes his young son Bruno (Staiola) with him to a market to look for his stolen property, whole or in parts, and they spend the entire day roaming around Rome on their quest. The day puts a strain on Antonio’s relationship with his young son, especially as he, in his desperation, makes some bad choices and cannot live up to the heroic view Bruno has had of him up until now.

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The weather does absolutely nothing to lighten the overall mood of the film

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This was a rewatch for (one of) us and not a particularly happy one. Not because we didn’t like the film – it’s amazing, but it is also thoroughly depressing. Antonio and Bruno have a few good moments during their quest such as the restaurant scene (which made us kind of hungry, we must admit), but there is a mood of hopelessness and desperation throughout Bicycle Thieves (the plural noun in the title implies more than we’re prepared to reveal) which stays with you for a while.

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However many mistakes Antonio makes though, his son stays by his side. Bless.

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Antonio is not a bad man, but he is not really a particularly good one either. He is human and desperate and he acts as such. Which is understandable. The film is an interesting (and beautiful) insight into post-war Italy and the effects poverty has on people. While it is sadder and more depressing than anything we’d willingly expose ourselves to (we prefer to live on fluffy clouds), it is not by far the worst one from De Sica in terms of sob factor. Seriously, if anyone tries to make us watch Umberto D. (1952) again, we might have to resort to violence. That shit is brutal.

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We mean it. If you care at all about dogs or old people (and you should! Both!), De Sica’s Umberto D will mess you up.

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What we learned: It always rains on Sundays. Also, there’s a cure for everything except death.

Next time: Oliver Twist (1948)