Monday, July 25, 2005

Turner Classic Movies stole my idea!

Or, um, I inadvertantly stole theirs. I caught the end of Now, Voyager over the weekend (which I also just bought on DVD) and afterwards they had a brief biography of Guy Kibbee. I only caught the tail end of that as I was still flipping channels. I think it's a series TCM does, and I'm assuming it's called "What A Character" since that was the tag line they ended the piece with.

Anyhow, I have somehow tragically overlooked Guy when doing my little "Character Actors I Love" profiles (and TCM's name is much better, damn it) so he's up next, I have decided. I've really liked him since I first saw him in Laughing Sinners. Which is odd when you think about it, because he plays a somewhat sleazy traveling salesman in that film. I've seen him in other, much more sympathetic roles. But we'll talk more about that next time...

Friday, July 22, 2005

Movies are the best medicine

Nothing like being sick and missing almost a whole week of work to allow one to get caught up on their classic movie viewing. Thank God for Netflix, because I didn't have the energy to go out and rent movies.

Anyhow, my most recent movie was Lady for a Day, and oh, I loved this movie! First off, it was full of character-actory goodness: May Robson, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks, Walter Connolly, and Nat Pendleton. Bonanza!

The scene when Apple Annie is about to confess her true identity to Count Romero, and then the party guests finally arrive, including the mayor and governor...I cried at the look on her face. And I don't usually cry at movies. But I'm a little choked up just talking about it now. May was just wonderful. So touching when she sees her daughter again for the first time.

I was so rooting for Annie and the Judge to fall in love and get married...they were so cute together. The look on the Judge's face when he sees her as "Mrs. E. Worthington Manville" for the first time was just adorable. From what I could tell, Guy did his own trick pool shots. At least, I'm fairly sure he did. Very impressive. The one thing I would have changed was the casting of Walter Connolly as a Spanish count. His nasal squeak of a voice and a "Spanish accent" are two things that should be kept as far apart as possible. He did not work at all in that part. He's better playing father to society girls or frustrated bosses, as we've discussed before.

Plus you have to love a movie with a character named "Dave the Dude." Heh.

Next up was The Damned Don't Cry!, one of the new Joan Crawford DVD releases. Joan's Warner Brothers films are on the edge of an era I don't like in her work. I much prefer her as a 30's shopgirl to the 40's hardened dames with rapidly thickening eyebrows. I'll go as far as Mildred Pierce, which I love, but that's about it. And the 60's scream, we'll not speak of those.

Damned was all right. Joan's character makes an interesting transition from poor but hard-working mother to tough dress model/gangster's moll. Maybe a bit too quick of a transition. The men in film were no one I had ever really heard of before; definitely not the A-listers than Joan had been partnered with in the past. Kent Smith was good, but the rest didn't do much for me. I suppose Warners was trying to boost their careers by putting them in a Joan movie, but it doesn't seem to have done much, in my (albeit limited) opinion.

Next was a double feature of sorts: The Aviator and Hell's Angels. As you know, I'm not much for modern movies, but I thought Leonardo DiCaprio was good as Howard Hughes (he got that creepy, beetling brow stare down, all right) and Cate Blanchett was unbelievably great as Kate Hepburn. I'd give her another Oscar if I could. The special effects were quite nifty, and hey, look! Hawkeye plays a sleazy senator. Aviator qualifies as a classic movie in a "by association" way. It's about classic movie stars and making classic movies, so I'll allow it in. ;)

After seeing that, of course I was curious about the original Hell's Angels, so I gave that a look. Good drama, amazing flight scenes, and Jean Harlow in color was a treat. With natural eyebrows, too! That's not a look you saw often. I thought James Hall looked familiar, and I was right; he also played Jack Maitland in Millie. The character of Monte constantly got on my nerves, and I wanted to smack him, Roy's goodness kind of balanced him out.

We wound up with a encore presentation of an old favorite, Objective, Burma! I would follow Errol Flynn into the jungle in a heartbeat. Yum. Such a great WWII film. After seeing brave and handsomely sweaty Errol lead his troops through the steamy jungles of Burma, I was well enough to go back to work, and so I did.

Up for this weekend: the 1932 Little Women, Teacher's Pet (yay, Gable!), and Olive Thomas: The Flapper and Everybody's Sweetheart.

Old favorites

A favorite movie is like a warm bath. I have different movies for different moods. The ones I’ve seen a frillion times I’ll sometimes put on just for company/background noise while I’m cooking or doing other things around the house, kind of like listening to baseball on the radio, which I also do. Of course, I often sit down just to watch them, too; a good movie can be background noise, but it is of course much more than just that. It’s an entertaining old pal.

Yesterday I was feeling under the weather, so when I finally dragged myself from bed I popped in "The Women," a tried and true favorite. I rented it one day a few years back out of curiosity, after seeing the DVD case on the shelf at TLA, and after I saw it could not believe I had been without this delicious film in my head up to that point.

It’s so delightfully witty; I think the humor holds up even by today’s standards. If the rumors are correct and they are going to remake the movie (which is a bad idea, but you know how the studios are), they could use all the same dialogue, and it would still be funny. Of course they’ll sex it up a lot, but hopefully they’ll keep the gold standard of not having any men in the movie. No, really. None whatsoever. Even the dogs were all female. That was Cukor’s idea, I heard. The movie’s tag line may be "It’s all about men!" but you won’t see one here. Not everyone notices this, and I love to point it out afterwards. "There must be at least one man," people say, "A butler, something." Nope, nary a man in sight throughout.

I’ve read the play, and it’s equally good. The character of Mary Haines is a little less sunshiny-sweet than she is in the movie, which makes it more balanced. It’s a fast and amusing read. I still think Crystal Allen has the best exit line ever: "There’s a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society...outside of a kennel." I want that on a bumper sticker.

Later in the day I watched "Chained," which I think may be the first Joan Crawford/Clark Gable movie I ever saw. My local TLA had a decent collection of them, and they comprised most of my early classic movie viewing. I wish they didn’t tease out Joan’s hair quite so much, but she is just adorable as she walks the ship’s deck with Clark, or swims in the pool with a wee Mickey Rooney (in an unbilled cameo role). Watching her devour roast chicken and milk for lunch with Clark and Stu Erwin always makes me hungry for a good, home-cooked meal.

Food in old movies seems so much more wholesome than today, doesn’t it? No strategically placed cans of Pepsi or bags of Doritos. No, it’s big homey meals (with no preservatives!), or the blue plate special in a diner (and even that seems appetizing) or maybe hors d’oeuvres at a swanky cocktail party. Whatever the occasion, the eating is usually good. And most movie stars ate in what I call the "European" style, which means they use both knife and fork, keep the fork in the left hand, and keep the tines pointed downwards. It looks so elegant. I’ve tried it, but I usually end up dropping food all over my lap. I do eat with my left hand, though.

[I just found this post in the drafts folder. It was originally dated 6/29 but I'm posting it with today's date so it floats to the top.]

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Either I'm psychic...

...or someone up there is listening to me, because I just found out a Bela Lugosi DVD collection is being released this September. And it contains all of the movies I picked in my previous entry.


Friday, July 08, 2005

Pre-Code-Dependence Day

It was a pre-code extravaganza this 4th of July, as my dad (who was over for a picnic) got interested in my Pre Code Hollywood: The Risqué Years DVD set, and we watched Kept Husbands and Millie back to back. I hadn’t seen them since I rented them from Netflix a few months back (which made me decide to buy them), and I’d forgotten how much I liked them, especially Millie.

After each movie, my dad would ask me, "Okay, what was wrong with that one?" Meaning, why would it not have passed the Hays Office Production Code, which began in 1934. Well, the whole idea of a "kept husband," for one. The broad hints at (and sometimes outright portrayals of) adultery. The fact that Mille dates Tommy Rock, the reporter, for four years, implying they’ve slept together (and may have lived together) without being married. In fact, Millie’s whole fall from grace, from her divorce from Jack Maitland to her murder trial at the end of the film, was too racy for a post-code Hollywood. Today, of course, it seems sweetly tame, which is why he had to ask, I suppose.

I have three Joan Crawford movies that are also pre-code: Laughing Sinners, in which she plays a night club singer who has a two year affair with a traveling salesman, before he leaves her to marry a "respectable" woman; Possessed, in which she plays Clark Gable’s mistress (he’s been hurt in the past and doesn’t want to marry; she doesn’t mind), and Rain, in which she played the prostitute Sadie Thompson. I know Joan made more movies before the code set in, but I haven’t seen any of them.

[I take that back; I have seen Grand Hotel (in which it’s implied Flaemmchen is a loose girl), and Dance, Fools, Dance, where she "tries love out on approval" and goes swimming in her lingerie. ]

Truth be told, I find these movies more interesting than some of her post-code movies I own, which include Love on the Run, Forsaking All Others, and The Women. In The Women she’s a mistress, but she clearly gets her comeuppance at the end. In Possessed, the mistress gets her man, when he gives up his chance at a political career to be with her, scandal be damned. Love on the Run is a fluffy confection containing a runaway bride and a reporter who in the end can’t bring himself to go on lying and taking advantage of her (no, not that way, but by using her story to sell papers). Laughing Sinners, by contrast, has Ivy repent at the end by sticking with the Salvation Army, but in between she works in a nightclub, has an affair with Howard Palmer, and later spends the night with him when, now as a Salvation Army girl, she sees him again for the first time after being dumped by him.

None of it is completely true to life, of course, being Hollywood, but the pre-code movies are a lot closer. Which is what makes them interesting, and also what started the Catholic League of Decency on the code in the first place.

But I started out talking about Kept Husbands and Millie. Thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? I like Millie better, because the "one woman’s story" angle is more appealing to me than watching Joel McCrea slowly struggle (then fail, but later succeed) to not become a "kept husband." He’s kind of a weenie at first, letting Dot order him around and taking a cushy job (which mostly entails learning how to play bridge) at his father-in-law’s construction firm. It obviously bothers him, but not enough to do anything about it until near the end of the film. He takes the St. Louis job, Dot comes to her senses and promises from then on to live on his salary and keep him with love, not her family’s money. On a side note, the actress who plays his mother, Mary Carr, was just adorable. (I like her even more since I just discovered she was born in Philadelphia and lived to be 99, bless her heart.)

Mille, as I said, was my favorite of the two. Her downfall comes in subtle and realistic steps, occurring gradually over the course of the movie. If you looked only at the beginning and then the end, you’d wonder how she could have fallen so far. The rest of the movie shows you. She marries young and has a child; a few years later, she discovers her husband is cheating on her and divorces him, leaving baby Connie with her father so the child can have the wealthy life he can provide.

Millie’s not down and out yet, though. She gets a job selling cigarettes in a hotel concession stand and seems content with her simpler life. She starts dating Tommy Rock, local boy reporter, but tells him marriage isn’t for her. After four years together (during which Millie starts her own concession business) she finds out he’s cheating on her. Now the slide down picks up speed, as Millie’s drinking increases; a title card tells us eight years go by, and "Millie’s still the red-headed girl...but no one cares anymore." I’ve spoiled most of the plot points, I see, so I’ll just sum up the ending by saying there’s a murder trial, and Millie’s long estranged daughter makes an appearance.

It’s a sad story, all the more touching because it’s believable. At least, I feel it is, for the times in which it was made. Not having lived in those times, obviously, I can’t completely vouch for its authenticity, and of course I’m viewing the movies through the "lens" of my time and experiences. Still, I think people then, and probably even now, can relate to Millie’s story, and understand her pain, and the choices she makes. It’s a genuine human story...why did there need to be a code against things like that?