It’s the middle of summer, and most of the country is enduring the heat so naturally we’d like to help.

What about some classic movies to while away the hours? Remember that local Bijou marquee that used to boast of  how ‘delightfully cool and refreshing’ it was inside?

Trivia item:  the first successful theatrical use of modern air conditioning occurred in 1925 at New York City’s Rivoli Theater, arranged by mechanical engineer Willis Carrier (remember and honor that man’s name).

Hello, everybody.  Joe Morella (lounging with Mrs. Norman Maine on the cool California coast) and Frank Segers (stuck in the desert) back with you with some suggestions for “Hot” classic movies (or at least those that have “Hot” in the title.)

You won’t be able to see these movie at the local theater so drop by your neighborhood video store, rent a copy and watch at home with the AC cranked way up.

There’s Hot Spell, Too Hot to Handle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Some Like it Hot, The Long Hot Summer, and , of course, White Heat.  True, only two of these titles are REAL classics, but they’re all worthy of mention.

1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof doesn’t hold up very well.  Yes, Elizabeth Taylor is gorgeous and sexy in that slip, and yes she gives a good performance, and yes, it does, at least, capture Tennessee Williams‘ play on film. But the “acting” — the cast includes Burl Ives, Judith Anderson and Jack Carson — seems too big for the screen. The whole thing works better onstage.

Paul Newman is much better in The Long Hot Summer. That, too, is largely sweaty melodramatic hokum, but it does have Orson Welles on board. (On  his performance as a Southern big daddy in 1958 adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel and stories, dyspeptic Hollywood wit Oscar Levant observed: Sometimes he was inaudible – those were his best moments.)

There are TWO films with the title Too Hot to Handle. The 1938 programmer with Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Walter Pidgeon is forgettable.  Then there is the 1960 British version with Jayne Mansfield and Leo Genn, directed by Terence Young.

It was shot in color, but considered too racy for American audiences so its release was delayed in the U.S. until it was edited.  Subsequent DVD releases in the States somehow wound up in black and white. And the title in America was Playgirl After Dark. If you can find this film, it might be worth seeing.

1958’s Hot Spell, too, is a programmer, but with an interesting cast and superlative performances.  It’s one of the few big screen appearances by Shirley Booth, best known for her Hazel TV sitcom from 1961 through 1965 on NBC then CBS. Booth made only four movies, three of which were directed by Daniel Mann. But she won an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy in her long career.

That leaves us with the two genuine classics.  Some Like it Hot is Billy Wilder’s 1959 gem costarring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and you-know-who. The movie is rightfully considered one of the best comedies ever. What more needs to be said of this film?

And White Heat has the quintessential performance by James Cagney as a deranged gangster in Raoul Walsh’s 1949 crime classic from Warner Brothers.  Virginia Mayo’s pretty good as well, as a fetching but treacherous femme fatale. (That’s them in the topmost photo.)

Mayo, born Virginia Jones, costarred with Bob Hope in the 1944 comedy, The Princess and the Pirate. She was all of 24 at the time, a relatively new Sam Goldwyn hire with a vaudeville past (part of a ‘performing horse act’ dreamed up by the Mayo Brothers; hence her show biz surname) and a peaches and cream complexion in her present.

She had a supporting role in Goldwyn’s 1946 screen masterpiece, “The Best Years of Our Lives.” She was Paul Newman’s first onscreen leading lady in Warner Brother’s 1954 New Testament drama, “The Silver Chalice,” in which Mayo was top-billed opposite Jack Palance (an actor she disliked; she found him “weird.”)

No question that our favorite Mayo role is that of the two-timing slut married to the excessively mother-loving gangster (Cagney) in  White Heat. Mayo’s portrayal of the double-crossing wife — setting in motion the series of events climaxing with Cagney’s  explosive self immolation ‘on top of the world’ — is hard to forget.

In one key scene, Mayo’s character, ‘Verna Jarrett,’ kisses her lover (gangster film regular Steve Cochran) while chewing gum.  No wonder she drove Cagney’s character nuts. (Mayo years later said that Cagney was the costar she most admired.)

Mayo died in January 2005, in Thousand Oaks, California. We kinda hope she exited the stage chewing gum — in cool, air conditioned comfort, of course.


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