Friday Film: Sonja Henie, Scratch Spin Master

itsapleasurecoverThis week’s Friday Film is a somewhat obscure movie I picked up at my local library. The title of the film is It’s A Pleasure!, but the title has so little to do with the story, I think I like my title much better (see above). I can’t say I liked this film but I found it interesting for several reasons and I had to think for a while about how I could explain what it brought to the screen and why my little audience (consisting of myself and Second Daughter) was a) bored and b) fascinated, both at the same time.

Sonja Henie

Wow! Scratch the surface on Norwegian figure-skater-turned-actress Sonja Henie and come up with a young phenom, a batch of controversy, and a relentless ambition. Sonja competed in the very first Winter Olympics in 1924 at the age of 11, then won her first gold medal in 1928. She went on to win gold in 1932 and 1936, parlaying her skating success (and her father’s fur trade money and influence) into a Hollywood film career that showcased her ground-breaking skating talent while ignoring her lack of acting experience. She was, above all, a performer, and the Hollywood of the ’30s and early ’40s was perfectly fine with that as long as it made them money.

A complex figure, profiles of Sonja (Wikipedia and 1994 Lillehammer profile on YouTube) mention her sweetness, skating innovation, and star-power along with her vulgarity, her ruthlessness, and to varying degrees, her connections with the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler himself. At the 1936 Winter Olympics, Sonja drew criticism from detractors for greeting Der Fuhrer with the Fascist salute and shaking Hitler’s hand. Of course, Sonja was one of the most popular sports stars of the day, and it was SonjaandHitlerinevitable that she would meet and greet Adolf personally at the Olympic venue in Germany. However, rumors (now largely debunked) circulated about an alleged affair with Hitler, sparked by her acceptance of an invitation to his Birchtesgarten hideaway in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, home of the 1936 Winter Games. Nazi ties notwithstanding, Sonja and her skating led the arena of ice show entertainment, on screen and off, well into the 1950s.

The Movie

It’s A Pleasure! (MGM, 1945) serves up Sonja Henie in all of her skating star glory, but the convoluted plot drags her out of the spotlight as she struggles to convey her on-screen love for an unworthy, unlikeable hero. In the film she plays the role of unassuming show skater Chris Linden, who falls in love with rough-and-tumble hockey star Don, played by Michael O’Shea. Don’s drinking and fighting get in the way of his hockey playing, and when he punches a referee in a game, he is banned from his sport. Sonja/Chris takes up for him and offers him a stunt skating job in a new ice show. They fall in love and get married, but as Chris Linden’s star rises, her husband’s wanes. Finally his drinking and his involvement with calculating femme fatale Gale Fletcher, played by Marie McDonald, run him aground and he leaves Chris to her skating stardom. But a happily ever after ensues when, urged by friends, Chris reunites with a reformed Don, who has taken to coaching hockey for underprivileged boys.

The Post-War Propaganda Machine

it-s-a-pleasure-sonja-henie-1945Hollywood got behind the war effort in 1941 with movies that celebrated America and urged its citizens, particularly women and minorities, to get out and work. The most famous of these images was Rosie the Riveter. But by 1945 it was time to return to “traditional values” and free up jobs for men returning from war. Hollywood turned its efforts to a post-war blitz directed at  women working in traditionally male careers. It’s A Pleasure has all those messages and more. The movie could be titled Why Your Career Needs To Take A Back Seat to Your Drunk Philandering Husband. There is actually a scene where Don fake-hits Chris Linden, and they joke about how it’s all okay to a bystander who objects. Crazy. This, I think, is where Second Daughter dropped sync on the plot and asked me to fast forward to the skating scenes.

The Scratch Spin

The scratch spin is an upright spin where the free leg is crossed over the skating knee and then pushed down towards the ice. As the arms are pulled in towards the chest, a blur effect can be achieved if the spin is done fast. It is the most popular spin among figure skaters.

~By , About.com Guide

Used to the polished jumps and spins of Sonja Henie’s successors, we could point out the flaws in Sonja’s quirky toe pick runs and easy waltz jumps. I had to keep reminding Second that Sonja Henie was the first female skater to perform some of these skills in competition. Sonja Henie’s scratch spin, though, is peerless. We even used the super slow mo on the DVD player to see how she entered the spin. Cool.

Here’s a YouTube clip from the movie, so you can get an idea of her amazing level of mastery.

Sonja Henie Stats

First to use dance choreography in her free skate

First to sport the white boots and short skirts now ubiquitous in women’s figure skating

Won 3 consecutive Gold Medals and 10 consecutive World Championships

Practiced and performed as much as 7 hours a day

One of the ten wealthiest women in the world when she died of leukemia in 1969

Any Sonja Henie fans? Budding figure skaters? What do you think of films that push a message or agenda?

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Link Love: The Best of St. Pat’s 2013

SI do like a good toast, so on this national day of toasting to the Irish in us all I offer a trip around the blogosphere for some of the best of St. Patrick’s Day.

For Fun

The fun and fabulous Susie Lindau dances an Irish Jig and offers up some toasts for us to try.

Celebrating the Emerald Isle from space! Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield honors St. Patrick from the international space station by singing Danny Boy (not bad!) and wearin’ the green.

If you have green eyes (and I DO), you may be Irish, or female, or both. Laura Dimon offers up the statistics on what makes green eyes so unusual. Plus, the most famous green-eyed lass in literature. Any guesses?

For Food

The how-to video in Irish Soda Bread, the American Way is a mini-visual spectacle. If you replay that bit where she slathers the Irish butter and it melts a little, you can actually smell the warm bread spiced with caraway seeds and currants. I want to invite Melissa Clark to my house to make these buns for me. Like, right now. Yum.

The full St. Patrick’s Day traditional meal explained by Rachel Allen on the WSJ Speakeasy blog. In the category of “I’ll bet you didn’t know that”: her explanation of how Irish coffee was invented.

For the foodies out there an Irish food paradise on Wise Words, the oeuvre of Irish food blogger Mona Wise and her chef husband (winner of Blog Awards Ireland‘s Best Blog for 2012).

For Travel

Our Amazing Planet’s post A Photo Tour of Ireland not only captures images of the Emerald Isle and its people, it presents the history and traditions of the Irish in the photo captions.

My own discovery of Blarney Castle from 2012’s St. Paddy’s Day post, including some blarney from Winston Churchill and my mom.

Lastly, a celebration of St. Patrick’s Day would not be complete for me without my favorite Irish pub song, “The Wild Rover,” sung here by The Dubliners:

Slainte! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Everyone! Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

Slainte: The Stone of Eloquence

What do Mick Jagger, Winston Churchill, and my Mom all have in common? If you guessed they all kissed the Blarney Stone at some point in their lives, you’d be spot on. Blarney Castle regularly makes Ireland’s top ten places to visit list . Why? Because it’s the home of the stone that promises eloquence to everyone who is brave enough to plant a big smooch on a bit of grey castle rock, high in a tower, upsidedown and backwards of course.

Here’s a demo of the technique on a sunnier day. Note the stone kissing helper has a FIRM grasp on the kissers. 🙂

I haven’t been to Blarney, but I can tell you it would be on my top ten list for Ireland too. Who wouldn’t want to brave the twisty stone steps of a medieval tower and kiss a stone with a storied history all to receive the “gift of the gab”? I was actually a little surprised my mom had done the…er…deed, given her fear of heights, but then she was barely 19 at the time. Go, Mom!

A brief history of Blarney:

In 1446 the third castle was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster of which the keep still remains standing.

The lower walls are fifteen feet, built with an angle tower by the McCarthys of Muskerry. It was subsequently occupied at one time by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, who is said to have supplied four thousand men from Munster to supplement the forces of Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Legend has it that the latter king gave half of the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in gratitude. This, now known as the Blarney Stone, was incorporated in the battlements where it can now be kissed.

The Earl of Leicester was commanded by Queen Elizabeth I to take possession of the castle. Whenever he endeavoured to negotiate the matter McCarthy always suggested a banquet or some other form of delay, so that when the queen asked for progress reports a long missive was sent, at the end of which the castle remained untaken. The queen was said to be so irritated that she remarked that the earl’s reports were all ‘Blarney’.

So let’s compare a little of that eloquence to see what the Blarney Stone wrought…

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life. –SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL

You wake up in the morning and you look at your old spoon, and you say to yourself, ‘Mick, it’s time to get yourself a new spoon.’ And you do. –MICK JAGGER

Sometimes you’re the only one who can be your children’s advocate. No one knows them better than you. –MOM

And a couple more…

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see. –SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL

Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and fame…ooh, ooh… –MICK JAGGER, Sympathy for the Devil

If you just picked up all the clothes on this floor, you could actually find something in your room. –MOM

Though the Stones are one of my favorite bands, and you can’t go wrong with Mom’s advice, I think I will give the oratory nod to Sir Winston Churchill, mainly for this epic speech rallying England in the dark days of WWII:

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

However, the true measure of Blarney can be summed up in this simple comparison:

“The difference between ‘blarney’ and ‘baloney’:

Baloney is when you tell a 50-year old woman that she looks 18. Blarney is when you ask a woman how old she is, because you want to know at what age women are most beautiful.”

Ah, yes…and if you say it with an Irish lilt, well…

Do YOU have the gift of the gab when you need it most? Anyone kissed the Blarney Stone and lived to tell about it? HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY, EVERYONE!!

(all photos and vid courtesy Blarney Castle’s really informative and fun website. Quotes from BrainyQuote and Greatest Winston Churchill Quotes, oh and Mom herself 🙂 )