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The great Preston Sturges would have been 116 today; alas, he made it not much past halfway to that age, dying at 60 in 1959.

But the mark he left of cinematic comedy is indelible and undeniable. He was a much-in-demand screen writer for many years before he ever sat in the director’s chair (among the classic movies he wrote but didn’t direct: The Good Fairy, Easy Living, Remember the Night), and when he finally did began to direct, he upped his game to heights rarely, if ever, equaled.

In a perfect world, you and I could meet for a beer and go see a Sturges comedy tonight. In a theatre with an appreciative audience is the best way to experience his work (as it is, let’s face it, with all funny movies), but since that’s not going to happen, we urge you to cancel your plans and rent any of the aforementioned titles, or any of those below: Sullivan’s Travels, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Unfaithfully Yours, The Palm Beach Story…

You might also pick up his memoir, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges. His was a life as entertaining and as unlikely as the most outlandish of his pictures, and he tells his story with characteristic panache.

Happy birthday, Mr. Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs.

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Dick Powell is the featured star on Monday, August 25, during Turner Classic Movies: TCM‘s “Summer Under the Stars” festival that happens every August. There are a number of worthy movies airing that day, but there are three particular pictures in a row that feature an appealing diversity of style and genre and demonstrate Powell’s versatility, and so we commend them to you as a collective 4.5 hours well worth watching.

The triple feature kicks off at 8 p.m. ET with the great Preston Sturges comedy CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940), which finds Powell portraying an office clerk who mistakenly believes his entry has been named the winner in a coffee company’s slogan contest. Hilarity, as one might expect, ensues. Next up, at 9:15 p.m., Powell takes a noir turn as Raymond Chandler‘s shamus, Phillip Marlowe, in MURDER, MY SWEET (1944). Finally, at 11:00 p.m., Powell takes center stage in one of Busby Berkeley‘s more over-the-top musical efforts, DAMES (1934).

We say, record the Emmys and watch these three movies on Monday night, but at the very least, fire up the DVR and record this trio of motion pictures for later viewing; you won’t regret it.

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The world lost a wonderful gal with the passing of the great Lauren Bacall.

We always felt a certain (entirely unjustified) connection to Ms. Bacall because we were neighbors for a few months when we first moved to New York City straight out of college.

We initially got settled here after the move from Oklahoma City by subletting an apartment from a pal for the summer; it was a small office, really, that wasn’t intended (or zoned) to be a residence. One room, plus an entryway, a closet and a good-sized bathroom, but no kitchen (we ate a lot of peanut butter that summer).

But we didn’t care because it was located on 72nd Street, just east of Columbus Avenue, which anyone familiar with Manhattan knows is just down the street from the Dakota, storied digs of the rich and famous and home to Bogie’s best gal.

For the story of how we ended up with an autographed photo from Ms. Bacall, go here: http://bit.ly/bettybacall

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Did we ever tell you about the time we met Kitty Carlisle? No? Well, let’s rectify that right now….

http://www.cladriteradio.com/our-evening-with-kitty-carlisle

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Robert Mitchum would have been 97 today, if he’d managed to stick around.

Was there ever a cooler movie star, with his sleepy eyes, barrel chest, and smooth way with tough-guy repartee? Mitchum was so cool he recorded calypso records on which he sang with a faux Caribbean accent. Honestly, who else could have pulled that off and kept his cachet?

It’s a damn shame Mitchum didn’t get to play Philip Marlowe at an appropriate age. His late-career stab at the role, in 1975′s FAREWELL MY LOVELY, shows that he was perfectly suited to play Raymond Chandler’s shamus. One can get a sense of how it might have gone by watching the film noir classic OUT OF THE PAST (1947), in which Mitchum plays a Marlowe-esque private eye, and at an age that was right in line with Marlowe’s.

We wrote to Mitchum in 1980 or so, asking him for an autographed photo. As we requested, we received a shot of him in the role of Marlowe, and it was inscribed, “Cheers! Bob Mitchum.” We don’t know for certain if it was signed by the man himself or by someone who did his signing for him, but we like to think that Mitchum, who didn’t brook much nonsense from anyone, wouldn’t bother to send out proxy signatures, that he’d either sign them himself or not at all.

We’ll close by recalling Mitchum’s response to a reporter’s question after serving time in 1948 for marijuana possession:

“[Prison is] like Palm Springs, without the riff-raff.”

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Imagine you’re at the drive-in, watching a war picture, and James Cagney pulls up in the space next to you.

That’s what happens in this memorable scene from White Heat (1949). Cody Jarrett (Cagney), on the lam with Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly) and his wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo), after shooting a police detective, eludes the cop in hot pursuit by making a quick right turn into the San-Val drive-in as the police siren recedes into the distance.

The theatre’s marquee touts a double feature of South of St. Louis (1949) and Siren of Atlantis (1949), but the movie actually seen on the screen as Cody and Co. settle in to discuss their plans is Task Force (1949), starring Gary Cooper and Jane Wyatt.

We enjoyed seeing the uniformed attendants offering peanuts and popcorn and placing the speaker just so in the passenger-side window. We couldn’t help but wonder just how many such attendants the San-Val employed on a busy Saturday night back in 1949 (if, in fact, it employed any attendants; it’s possible that was a creative touch added by the producers of the picture)

Burbank’s San-Val, the second drive-in ever built in California, opened in 1938 (the first, called The Drive-in Theatre, opened for business in 1934 at 10850 W. Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles) and was shuttered in the mid-1970s. The theatre, which originally had a capacity of 590 cars (it later accommodated more than 800 cars), was located at 2720 Winona Avenue, at the confluence of Winona, Naomi Street and San Fernando Road. An office building housing a number of movie production and effect houses now occupies the spot.

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Hear birthday boy James Cagney speak Yiddish!

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Happy 115th birthday to the late, great James Cagney!

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Happy 107th birthday to one of our favorite actresses, Ms. Barbara Stanwyck!

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One of our favorite aspects of the historic lore of Los Angeles is the novelty architecture that’s long been so closely associated with the city. So we were tickled to see this sequence from Stand-In (1937), starring Humphrey Bogart, Leslie Howard and Joan Blondell.

In this clip, Howard, playing a buttoned-up bean-counter from back east who’s just arrived in L.A. on a mission to oversee a struggling movie studio, is picked up at the train station by a company car. On a memorable ride through the city, he encounters an eatery shaped like a hat (the Brown Derby), a bakery shaped like a windmill (one of the stores in the once-prominent Van de Kamp’s chain), a service station shaped like an airplane, complete with spinning propellers, and several others.

There’s not an establishment in this thirty-plus-second journey that we wouldn’t eagerly patronize, if only someone would perfect a functioning time machine.

Let us know if you have memories of any of these establishments. We’d love to learn more about them.