A Trip to the Dentist

For most people, getting to the dentist is the easy part.  It’s the time in the chair that’s difficult.

But for me it was the other way around.

I had an appointment for 9 am on Friday morning.  The receptionist had given me a reminder card, and called once to remind me.  I had to stop for gas on the way, so I left in plenty of time.  As I was filling my tank around 8:30 with plenty of time to spare, my phone rang.

“Are you coming?” the receptionist asked me when I answered.

Uh-oh.  This couldn’t be good.

“I’m on my way.”

“Are you in the parking lot?”

I asked her what she meant, and she revealed that my appointment had been at 8:15 and I was therefore 15 minutes late instead of 30 minutes early.  I explained the mix up about the appointment times.  I was sort of hoping that since I’m such a good customer and all, she would just squeeze me in when I arrived.

No dice.  They were booked solid and I would have to reschedule.

Well, that wasn’t the end of the world.  Then she looked through her appointment book and realized she had a cancellation for that day at 4:15.

It would mean going to work late and then leaving early again, but I took it.

Just before I hung up, she reminded me that everyone had to wear a mask in the office.

“Yes, yes,” I said, barely listening (is this how I missed the appointment time?) as I turned around.

Later that same day….

I was driving to the dentist’s office for the second time, again with plenty of time to spare, when I remembered about the mask.  I wasn’t worried, because I keep a bag of disposable masks in the car.  Something told me to check, so at the next red light I opened the glove box and found the bag of masks…empty.

I pulled over to the side of the road and looked through my purse, the rest of the glove box, the backseat, the trunk.

For the first time in three years I had no masks in the car.

The receptionist was going to kill me.

There was a convenience store on the way, and I crossed my fingers that they would have masks for sale.  It was a small mom and pop place, and I looked everywhere to no avail.

There was a man talking to the cashier, telling her an extended story about—I kid you not—how to get rid of the moles in his yard.

I kept glancing at my watch, realizing that if I didn’t get a mask here I had two options:

  1. Stop somewhere else to buy a mask and be late for my appointment
  2. Go to the appointment without a mask

Seeing as I’d already crossed the receptionist once today, I didn’t want to do it twice.

The cashier must’ve seen the panic in my eyes, for she ushered mole man out of the way.

“Do you sell masks?” I asked in desperation.

“Hold on,” she said.

I closed my eyes in relief.

But then she started looking around behind the counter.  What was she doing?  I needed her to point me to the masks!

Then she came up with a bag of what was obviously her personal stash of disposable masks.  She gave me one.

“What do I owe you?”

She waved it away.

To repay her kindness, I bought a Pepsi and a candy bar.

“Where are you going?”  she asked—meaning, where was I going that I needed a mask.

Around here, there are now very few places outside of hospitals that require masks.

“The dentist,” I told her, and thanked her for her kindness.

I arrived with three minutes to spare.

After all that, the appointment itself was uneventful—a routine cleaning, a quick check by the dentist to say everything looked fine.

Believe me, I triple checked the time on the follow-up appointment I made on my way out.

Movies I’m Thankful For Recap

Whiteboard

When I decided to write about a film I’m grateful for every day in November, I thought the difficult part would be keeping pace with the writing.

But that turned out to be easy—the difficult part was narrowing the list down to 30. 

In the end I decided to let my intuition be my guide.  I didn’t consciously try to make sure I didn’t have too many comedies, or too many movies from the 90s.  I wrote about the films I wanted to write about, and rewatched about half of them in the process.

I had thought I was writing a tribute to the films that have shaped me, but what actually came out was something more specific—a love letter to the movie theater itself.

The theaters where I saw many of these movies are gone now—Showcase Cinema in Monroeville is a Sheetz gas station, as is The Cheswick.  I’ve forgotten the name of the little movie theater behind the Monroeville Mall but it’s now a Best Buy.

But The Manor is still standing, as is The Oaks.

And the fairly new theater at the Pittsburgh Mills survived the pandemic.

But there’s no doubt the movie theater’s heyday is long behind it.  It’s not only that people would rather stay home—it’s that many of the stories people want to see are no longer made into big blockbuster films. 

Today the buzz, the creativity, and the best acting is done on television.  Novels like Big Little Lies, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Game of Thrones that once might’ve been made into big films are now adapted into TV shows with award winning actors.

Remove the superhero movies and Tom Cruise, and what does the movie theater have left?

But one of my life’s mottos is that we must live in the world the way it is, not the way we wish it to be. 

I will always have a sweet nostalgia for the movie going experience of my youth, but one should never spend so much time looking over one’s shoulder at the past that they miss what’s in front of them.

Maybe you can’t just plop yourself down in the theater every Saturday night like I used to, but if you sniff around, you can always find the stories you’re most interested in.

Novels, blog posts, blockbuster films, television shows, YouTube videos.

The methods of delivery may change, but we’ll always tell each other stories.

The truth is there’s never been a better time to be alive if you want to discover or tell stories.

And that’s what I’m most thankful for.

Thanks for taking the journey with me.


The film I most enjoyed rewatchingMoulin Rouge! (2001)

The film I cut from the list after rewatchingTrue Romance (1993)

The films I already regret not including:  Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), Elizabeth (1998), Clueless (1995), Miracle (2004), and Cruel Intentions (1999).

Actress with the most appearances on the list:  Nicole Kidman 4 (Moulin Rouge!, Practical Magic, The Others, Far and Away)

Actor with the most appearances on the list:  Tom Cruise 3 (Mission Impossible:  Ghost Protocol, Far and Away, Interview with the Vampire) and Brad Pitt 3 (Thelma and Louise, Interview with the Vampire, Legends of the Fall)


This is the final post of my Movies I’m Grateful For series, which ran daily through the month of November. 

Films Covered:  Splash | New Moon | The Lucky One | Thelma and Louise | Katy Perry:  Part of Me | Crazy Rich Asians | Under the Tuscan Sun | Terminator 2 | Moulin Rouge!How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days | Practical Magic | Schindler’s List | Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol | Stardust | The Man in the Moon | The Others | Little Women | Cruella | Sliding Doors | Far and Away | The Magdalene Sisters | The Heat | The Last Five Years | Shakespeare In Love | Erin Brockovich | The Bear | Braveheart | Interview with the Vampire | Legends of the Fall | Titanic

First Comes Courage (1943):  “I’ll Quit When You Quit”

Merle Oberon and Brian Aherne in First Comes Courage (1943)
Merle Oberon and Brian Aherne in First Comes Courage (1943)

First Comes Courage (1943) opening

Unfortunately, Dorothy Arzner was unable to complete direction on her final film, First Comes Courage.  Though she received full directorial credit, Charles Vidor finished the film after she came down with a life-threatening bout of pneumonia.  It was the only film she directed that she was unable to finish.

First Comes Courage is set in Norway 1942.  We open on Nicole Larsen (Merle Oberon), a Norwegian woman scorned by her countrymen for carrying on a love affair with German officer Major Paul Dichter (Carl Esmond.)

We immediately learn that Nicole is a spy, fighting to free Norway from German occupation.  She feeds intelligence from her Nazi lover to the Allies that helps them bomb critical Nazi strongholds.

Dichter begins to suspect Nicole, and sensing his wavering commitment, she calls for reinforcements.  Norway’s American allies decide to assassinate Dichter and make it look like he was a random casualty in the latest Allied raid.  They will then evacuate Nicole to safety.

American Allan Lowell volunteers for the assignment, and we soon find out why—he and Nicole were lovers before she began romancing Dichter for information.

Merle Oberon and Carl Esmond in First Comes Courage 1943
Nicole (Oberon) and Major Dichter (Esmond)

To determine for sure whether or not Nicole is a spy, Dichter takes two actions—he feeds her false intelligence and proposes marriage.

Knowing she will gain more power as a commander’s wife, she calls off the assassination and agrees to the marriage.  But it’s too late, for when she feeds Dichter’s fake intelligence to the Allies and they bomb a worthless cannery, Dichter knows his bride-to-be is a traitor.

He goes through with the wedding anyway and confronts her on their wedding night.  She is finally free to release the scorn and disgust she has for him, and calls him a coward and expresses no remorse for betraying him.

He plans to make her murder look like an accident to save face with his fellow officers (no good Nazi marries an Allied spy, after all) but Allan shoots him dead before he has the chance.

Merle Oberon and Carl Esmond in First Comes Courage 1943
Nicole (Oberon) and Major Dichter (Esmond)

Allan believes he and Nicole will finally be together, but she insists on staying behind in Norway, knowing that as the widow of a German officer, she’ll have even more power and access to information that will help the Allies.

Allan begs her to quit—she’s done enough, and she’s in too much danger.

Allan insists they are never to be apart again, but Nicole is resolute, telling him:

“Oh but darling it isn’t that kind of world anymore.  People don’t dance and laugh and ski, as we once used to.”

She understands that unless and until they win the war, none of them will have freedom to love, no matter what they might pretend.

After one final protest, she tells him, “I’ll quit when you quit.”

The film ends with Allan returning to the army’s boat as Nicole makes her way back to the dangerous mission that will almost certainly end in her death.

First Comes Courage is an inventive World War II thriller, a celebration of patriotism and bravery that was common in films of the era.  Oberon plays Nicole with an appropriate intensity—we can see her loathing for the man she pretends to love, and her fear that discovery is imminent.  We can also admire Nicole’s resolve to continue and wonder if we’d do the same in her shoes.

The film’s Achilles’ heel is that there is zero chemistry between Oberon and Brian Aherne.  And so while I applaud Nicole’s courage in returning to her field of battle, I don’t quite buy that she was heartbroken over leaving Allan behind.

Unfortunately for Arzner, the film flopped in 1943, her second in a row after Dance, Girl, Dance.

Her ultimate split from Hollywood seemed a mutual breakup—she wanted to make films with strong, independent female characters but a code-enforced Hollywood at war had no interest in them.

Chalk it up to irreconcilable differences.

Dorothy Arzner would never direct another feature film, but she continued to have an active career in the film industry.  She made Women’s Army Corps training films, produced plays, and even had a radio show.  She started teaching cinema in 1952, eventually joining the faculty of UCLA in 1961.

At UCLA, she taught cinema and film to Francis Ford Coppola, who speaks warmly of Arzner on the Dance, Girl, Dance DVD extras.

She even hooked up again with her old friend Joan Crawford, directing Pepsi commercials after Crawford married Alfred Steele, her final husband and the CEO of Pepsi.

Dorothy Arzner’s films are worth watching today because they put strong women at the center of the story in a time when that was rare.

More than anything, I wonder what films we missed out on when Arzner’s career was cut short by the implementation of the production code.

She was a unique voice in Hollywood, directing the early works of such eventual stars as Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell.

We’re lucky that her films have been preserved and we can still enjoy them today.

First Comes Courage (1943) Verdict:  Film Buffs Only

Sources

  • Mayne, Judith.  Directed by Dorothy Arzner.  1994.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

The Movie I’m Most Thankful For:  Titanic (1997)

Titanic (1997) movie poster

It’s been twenty-five years and I can still smell the fresh paint of the movie theater.

Just kidding.  But if you get the joke, you already know that the movie I’m most thankful for is James Cameron’s Oscar-winning blockbuster Titanic.

What I miss most from today’s cinema is old-fashioned, big budget romantic melodrama. 

And my favorite melodrama plot goes something like this:  beautiful woman chooses a penniless dreamer over a black-hearted aristocrat who will provide her with a secure but stiflingly boring life.

Without intentionally meaning to, I’ve populated this month’s list with several such films—Moulin Rouge!, Far and Away, and Shakespeare In Love.  And a few more just missed the cut.

What can I say? In a world of cynics, I’m a sentimental fool.

But without a doubt, the best of these is Titanic.

I don’t need to tell you the plot of  Titanic, do I?  I mean, I already did—beautiful woman, penniless dreamer, etc.  Braid that love story through the well-known historical sinking of the Titanic and you have my absolute favorite movie—and that includes everything from the golden age of Hollywood as well.

Titanic is the standard by which I judge all other films.

I don’t remember exactly how many times I saw Titanic in the theater back in 1997, but it was well into the double-digits.  I saw it in 2017 when it returned to the big screen for its 20th anniversary.

And if the rumors are true that they’re bringing it back to the big screen next summer for its 25th anniversary, well, I’ll be there too.

We were all so enamored with the plight of Jack and Rose that my friends and family and I would make quizzes for one another to determine who knew the movie best.  By this time it was out on VHS, and we’d all watched it dozens of times, so we all kept getting all the questions correct.

The questions escalated in difficulty until we were asking each other insane things like “how many goldfish were in Old Rose’s fishbowl?”

And if you’re thinking “what fishbowl?” then you, my friend, are not a Titanic superfan.


Author’s Note:  If anyone cracks a joke in the comments about Rose not letting Jack onto the piece of driftwood at the end of the film, I’ll permanently ban you from my site.

Don’t test me. Examples of the kind of thing I’d better not see:

Jack and Rose - Titanic - Meme

Jack and Rose - Titanic - Meme

Jack and Rose - Titanic - Meme


Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic (1997)

This is the final entry of my Movies I’m Grateful For series, running daily through the month of November. 

The Full List: Splash | New Moon | The Lucky One | Thelma and Louise | Katy Perry:  Part of Me | Crazy Rich Asians | Under the Tuscan Sun | Terminator 2 | Moulin Rouge!How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days | Practical Magic | Schindler’s List | Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol | Stardust | The Man in the Moon | The Others | Little Women | Cruella | Sliding Doors | Far and Away | The Magdalene Sisters | The Heat | The Last Five Years | Shakespeare In Love | Erin Brockovich | The Bear | Braveheart | Interview with the Vampire | Legends of the Fall |

Movies I’m Thankful For:  Legends of the Fall (1994)

Legends of the Fall (1994) poster

Man, 1994 was a good year for Brad Pitt.  He followed up Louis in Interview with the Vampire by playing another self-loathing hottie in Legends of the Fall.

Along with Pitt, Aidan Quinn and Henry Thomas play the Ludlow brothers Tristan, Alfred, and Samuel.  The boys were raised by their father, Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), in the wilds of Montana at the start of the 20th century.

Tristan is wild and more at home with the Cree Native Americans than in civilized society.  Alfred, the eldest, follows all the rules.  And Samuel is the baby, doted on by his older brothers.

Against their father’s wishes—who disavows the government he once served over its treatment of Native Americans—Samuel and Alfred enlist to fight in World War I.  Tristan has no interest in the war, but goes along after promising both his father and Samuel’s fiancé Susannah (Julia Ormond) that he would protect Samuel.

When Samuel is brutally killed in front of Tristan’s eyes, the Ludlow family is never the same.

Tristan blames himself, and for many years nothing can soothe his torment.  Not his slaughter of the German soldiers who killed his brother, or long voyages on ships, or dangerous hunting trips in far off lands. 

Not coming home.

And not the love of Susannah, who had sincere feelings for Samuel but a desperate desire for Tristan.

The tragedy of the film is that everyone acts in good faith—the Colonel loves his sons, Susannah cannot help loving Tristan even after she marries Alfred, and Alfred tries to do everything right but can never measure up to Tristan in the eyes of his father or his wife.

No one can hurt you like the ones you love the most, even when—especially when—they don’t mean to.

It’s got beautiful cinematography of Montana, unforgettable characters, and it illuminates the primal nature of the sibling relationship—its love, jealousy, protectiveness, competition, resentment, and playfulness.

But above all the unbreakable bond of blood.

It is still one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

Alfred (Quinn), Tristan (Pitt), Samuel (Thomas), and Susannah (Ormond) in happier times.


This is part of my Movies I’m Grateful For series, running daily through the month of November. 

Other films include: Splash | New Moon | The Lucky One | Thelma and Louise | Katy Perry:  Part of Me | Crazy Rich Asians | Under the Tuscan Sun | Terminator 2 | Moulin Rouge! |  How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days | Practical Magic | Schindler’s List | Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol | Stardust | The Man in the Moon | The Others | Little Women | Cruella | Sliding Doors | Far and Away | The Magdalene Sisters | The Heat | The Last Five Years | Shakespeare In Love | Erin Brockovich | The Bear | Braveheart | Interview with the Vampire |

Movies I’m Thankful For:  Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Though many great vampire movies preceded it, Interview with the Vampire was my first foray with the undead.

Long before Edward Cullen sparkled his way into my heart, I was enthralled with another guilt-ridden vegetarian vampire—Louis, perfectly played by long-haired heartthrob Brad Pitt.

A girl who sat behind me in junior high English class wore a black Brad Pitt as Louis t-shirt to school one day.

I’ve never been so jealous in all my life.

Interview is an embarrassment of riches, because in addition to the brooding Louis, we have Tom Cruise as the dangerously seductive Lestat, a singularly unique character in vampire lore who turned the beautiful Louis into his vampire companion.

The plot thickens when Lestat—worried that Louis is about to leave him—turns young girl Claudia (an excellent Kirsten Dunst) into a child vampire, knowing Louis would never abandon a child.

Interview follows the members of this warped little family through decades of lust, love, betrayal, solitude, and heartbreak.

Louis is tormented by guilt, Lestat is a narcissistic dictator, but Claudia suffers the worst fate of all—her mind matures and she becomes a woman forever trapped in the unchanging body of a child.

The movie is based on Anne Rice’s novel of the same name, written in the aftermath of the death of her five-year-old daughter.  At its heart is a gloomy tale of never-ending grief and loneliness, which is not usually the kind of thing I go for, but I’ve never been able to turn my eyes away from the tale of Louis, Lestat, and Claudia.


This is part of my Movies I’m Grateful For series, running daily through the month of November. 

Other films include: Splash | New Moon | The Lucky One | Thelma and Louise | Katy Perry:  Part of Me | Crazy Rich Asians | Under the Tuscan Sun | Terminator 2 | Moulin Rouge! |  How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days | Practical Magic | Schindler’s List | Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol | Stardust | The Man in the Moon | The Others | Little Women | Cruella | Sliding Doors | Far and Away | The Magdalene Sisters | The Heat | The Last Five Years | Shakespeare In Love | Erin Brockovich | The Bear | Braveheart

Black Friday Hiatus

My love for Black Friday shopping sprees is well-documented on this site.  While I dislike shopping in general, there’s a pageantry and tradition to Black Friday that I enjoy.  I’m not looking for big ticket items like televisions and laptops, but the underappreciated Black Friday sales—blankets, sheets, and cookware.

I once got the Dutch oven of my dreams for half off on Black Friday.

Covid kept me from Black Friday in 2020 but I was back at Macy’s at five in the morning in 2021.

But this year I skipped Black Friday.

Partially it’s because I have a lot of creative work to do—I’m finishing up the last few entries for the Movies I’m Thankful For series, wrapping up my writing on director Dorothy Arzner, and preparing for next week’s library talk on The Dueling De Havilland Sisters at the Penn Hills Library. (Interested in attending?  Register here!).

I could’ve squeezed some shopping in, of course, but hitting the books was more appealing.

But even more so, there’s nothing I want this year, not even a new blanket or skillet.

I feel especially grateful for this past year—a new day job, record views on my blog, the opportunity to speak at the Plum Library last April that’s spiraled into a genuine side gig.  My rowing club hired a wonderful new coach who’s going to do her best to get us in shape this winter.  Friends I hadn’t seen since the pre-Covid days drove down to watch me row and have a wonderful three hour bagel breakfast at Panera.

And how could I possibly want for more after scoring Taylor Swift tickets?

I’m lucky—the things I want most are the things I already have.

I can wait until next year to get another blanket.

Movies I’m Thankful For:  Braveheart (1995)

Braveheart (1995) poster

Braveheart blew me away.

Mel Gibson directed, produced, and starred in this biography of William Wallace, a 13th-century farmer who becomes the leader of a Scottish rebellion after English soldiers executed his wife.

At first, Wallace fights for vengeance, but as he gains followers, his mission grows into securing a Scotland free from English rule.  He fights, he inspires, he has an affair with the king’s daughter-in-law, and in the end he submits to death rather than beg his enemy for mercy.

The story was violent, romantic, and adventurous. 

I had to know more.

Back in 1995, you couldn’t just pull out your phone and google “Is Braveheart historically accurate?”  You had to go to the library, check out a biography on William Wallace, and figure it out for yourself.  My reading revealed that Mel Gibson had taken quite a few liberties with the historical record.  This didn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t bother me now:  I’ll always take an entertaining film over an accurate one.

I just want to know what’s true and what isn’t.

Thus began my ongoing love affair with the intersection of history, books, and movies.  If I love a movie, I want to know everything about it.  I’ll read the book it’s based on, and fact-check it like I once did Braveheart.  That morphed into wanting to know everything about the people who directed and starred in the films as well.

It’s that same impulse that drove me to start this Golden Age of Hollywood blog nearly three years ago as a place to talk about the history of movies with people who love them as much as I do.

And it all began with Braveheart.


This is part of my Movies I’m Grateful For series, running daily through the month of November. 

Other films include: Splash | New Moon | The Lucky One | Thelma and Louise | Katy Perry:  Part of Me | Crazy Rich Asians | Under the Tuscan Sun | Terminator 2 | Moulin Rouge! |  How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days | Practical Magic | Schindler’s List | Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol | Stardust | The Man in the Moon | The Others | Little Women | Cruella | Sliding Doors | Far and Away | The Magdalene Sisters | The Heat | The Last Five Years | Shakespeare In Love | Erin Brockovich | The Bear

Movies I’m Thankful For:  The Bear (1988)

The Bear 1988 Poster

As a kid, I saw lots of movies that were technically age-inappropriateIn 1991 alone, my parents vouched for ten-year-old me to get into R rated movies like Thelma and Louise and Terminator 2.

Shootings, stabbings, and beatings?  Didn’t faze me.

And the traumatic scene in The Man in the Moon?  Please.  That was only PG-13, practically made for babies.

But The Bear scarred me for life.

It probably seemed like a good idea to take a seven-year-old to a PG-rated nature film about a cute little orphan bear cub who learns how to make his way in the world.

The film opens on the bear cub and his mother rooting around on a mountaintop for honeycomb.  The mother knocks too many rocks loose and a boulder falls on her, killing her instantly.  The now orphaned cub is first confused, then bereft, whimpering as he spends the night sleeping against his dead mother’s body.

I squirmed in my seat.

But things were about to get so much worse.

Over on the other side of the forest, two hunters are tracking a giant Kodiak bear.  One takes a shot, and the bear roars with pain, and blood appears on his shoulder.

They zoomed in on the blood.

So much blood.

I started screaming at the top of my seven-year-old lungs.

My dad carried me out of the theater, with my mom right behind.

I stood, hysterical and inconsolable, in the lobby of the theater.

“It’s just ketchup,” my dad kept saying, referring to the blood.  Ketchup, ketchup, ketchup, I repeated to myself.

“It’s pretend,” my mother said.  “None of the bears got hurt.”

Pretend, pretend, pretend.

I’ve never had the guts to go back and see what happens after the first twenty minutes.

I hope the little guy made it, and the big Kodiak too.

Give me Louise blowing away Thelma’s wannabe rapist any day.

Just leave the animals out of it.

The Bear
Never saw this part….


This is part of my Movies I’m Grateful For series, running daily through the month of November. 

Other films include: Splash | New Moon | The Lucky One | Thelma and Louise | Katy Perry:  Part of Me | Crazy Rich Asians | Under the Tuscan Sun | Terminator 2 | Moulin Rouge! |  How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days | Practical Magic | Schindler’s List | Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol | Stardust | The Man in the Moon | The Others | Little Women | Cruella | Sliding Doors | Far and Away | The Magdalene Sisters | The Heat | The Last Five Years | Shakespeare In Love | Erin Brockovich |