Saturday, April 11, 2015

THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON: BIG BAD MAMA: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE'S MRS. ISELIN

This is my entry in the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by the wonderful gals at SPEAKEASY, SHADOWS AND SATIN  and SILVER SCREENINGS. Click on their links for more dastardly deeds.

Mrs. Iselin was the very bad mama from John Frankenheimer's masterly "Manchurian Candidate" (1962). It seems she liked to keep a journal.....

A note from Mrs. Iselin


A woman in 1962 so rarely gets to tell her side of the story, especially in Washington. And, if she is smart and ambitious, she’d better be careful or she will be carted off to the loony bin. 

So, we Washington women must clink our cracked ice over lunch and smile and wear our tasteful and tailored suits while the men run the country. We must show ourselves to be concerned mothers and supportive wives. We encourage our sons to succeed. 


If I hadn't been born with a vagina I could rule the world. But, let me tell you, I am not going to let that part of my anatomy stop me. In fact, I’m making it work for me. That’s what a smart woman does; a smart COMMUNIST woman.

Sadly, the country is commie-crazy and the red hunt is on. So, I must disguise myself as a conservative patriot.  But this cloak of conservatism suits my purposes, for you see, I have a plan.



Step 1: Marry a likely candidate for President you can control. Senator Iselin is perfect – dumb as a box or rocks and easy to control (putting the old vagina to work, girls).

Step 2: Use superior brain power on inferior brains (otherwise known as “brainwashing”).


My poor son Raymond was sent over to Korea to fight the communists. Poor kid, ordered to fight against the people his mama supports. My son is weak and I do love him (in a weird kind of way) and I do not want him to be conflicted. And so, while spending a little time as a guest of the Communist Chinese, we perform a little experiment. Raymond and his captured platoon are so susceptible to brainwashing that they declare him a hero even though his handlers order him to brutally murder a fellow soldier.  Boy, they are a dumb bunch. Poor Raymond. I sort of wish we didn't have to use him this way, but he was the most malleable of the bunch. The rest of them were not much, but that Captain Marco bears some watching. Raymond is awarded the Medal of Honor. I've got it all under control.


Step 3: Set the plan in motion. It was a good plan. Brainwashed Raymond would come home and, like Pavlov’s dog, would become my slave when I utter the words “care for a game of solitaire?” Just in case, we keep a North Korean houseboy on hand. He is a good shot, so shooting the leading candidate for president shouldn't be difficult for him. This paves the way for me, I mean my husband, to become president. Oh what a good First Lady I will be!  The whole nation will know that red is my favorite color!


And this brainwashing thing is actually a kindness for Raymond, because once he snaps out of his trance, he remembers nothing. Such a good boy – I could just kiss him.


Now I only have to wait for the fools to begin their dance….


Post Script from Captain Marco:


What an evil broad! See, I started to have these dreams, visions really, and something in my gut told me my memories were all fake. Raymond thought so, too, and together we unraveled the master plan of his mama. I feared he was still under her spell when I discovered he was going to the convention to shoot the presidential candidate. But Raymond was clear – his rifle took out both Senator Iselin and his mother. Sadly, he turned the gun on himself, but he had this time earned that medal and done a real service to his country. Too bad his mother was red. I’ll bet she would have been a real ring-a-ding swinger.



One last thing... there is a rumor that Mrs. Iselin did not die that day, but instead was spirited away to Maine..some little burg called Cabot Cove....  A lot of people die in that town. Coincidence? I wonder....


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pre-Code Blogathon: Call Her Savage

This is my entry in the Pre-Code Blogathon, hosted by Pre-Code.Com and Shadows and Satin. Check both sites for more audacious entries!

I used to get a real kick out of this film. It is loaded with pre-code antics up the yin-yang. But now, I can't help but view with a little sadness, too.

Don't get me wrong. "Call Her Savage" (1932) is what enforcement of the code was all about. Bestiality (implied), prostitution (almost), a dead baby, a cat fight, a gay cafe scene, lingerie and an alarming lack of said lingerie: it's all there. For those not familiar with the film, here' the story in a nutshell:

Nasa Springer (Clara Bow) is an uncontrollable wild child. we know this because she whips a snake and a (pardon the expression, but it is much in evidence here) half-breed named Moonglow (Gilbert Roland). Nasa also leaves her house without her foundation garments, frolics herself into a kind of sexual frenzy with her Great Dane and, worst of all, her papa frowns at the sight of her.

In fact, scowling pops and the beau he had planned for her are such a drag that the spirited Nasa beats it out of Texas and makes for the bright lights of Chicago. There she marries a beast of a husband, has a baby, loses the baby in a fire and almost succumbs to the streets. She fights back from the depths and manages to give ex-husband Larry Crosby (Monroe Owsley) and rival Sunny De Lane (Thelma Todd) a chair over the head and a good hair pull, respectively.
When Nasa learns that her mother is ill, she returns home to Texas. Now, be mindful that early on in the film mom seemed to have had a cozy relationship with a Native American. On her deathbed she confesses all to Nasa: the source of her wildness, her savagery is the half of her that is not (gasp!) white. Yes, mother dallied with an American Indian (old scowly-face isn't her father after all!) and Nasa is a half-breed. That explains it all! And to put the cherry on top of the cake, Nasa can now live happily ever after with Moonglow because now the races are not mixing. Yay! 

This is all pretty heady pre-code shenanigans. What makes it sad for me, and what I missed earlier, is the cruel exploitation of the brilliant Clara Bow. A great silent star whose  mental and emotional states were fragile, Clara was the victim of scandal and scurrilous rumor, innuendo and outright lies. The opening scenes are shocking, outrageous and a crass exploitation of Clara's past and reputation (rumors of sex with her dogs was one of the most cruel things said of her). It was a comfort to her to have former lover and loyal friend Gilbert Roland as a co-star. Roland remained a supportive and gentle pal to Clara for the rest of her life.

The film never really gets out of the gutter (which is one of its chief pleasures), but, in spite of this, Clara rises to the occasion and proves herself to be a fine actress. Her performance is saucy, sexy, strong and touching. Her voice is good and she is always in control of the many emotions she portrays. Monroe Owsley also turns in an interesting performance. He was an interesting actor who died much too soon.

I suppose this film can be viewed as one that strikes a blow for women's independence, since Nasa defies her father and the arranged life planned for her to strike out on her own and follow her heart, but in telling this story, the film exploits the life of the woman on the screen. Clara Bow was 27 when "Call Her Savage" was released. She made one more film and then retires. She had had enough.

"Call Her Savage" is a pre-code extravaganza that is no better than it should be, but it hurts my heart a little to watch it.






Friday, March 13, 2015

The Cinemascope Blogathon: Move Over Darling (and Cary, Irene, Marilyn, Dean and you, too, Enoch Arden)

While 1963’s “Move Over Darling” can never top it’s inspiration source (1940‘s “My Favorite Wife” with the dynamic duo of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne), it stands on its own as a delightful piece of movie fluff. Good fluff isn’t easy. Fluff has to be light, airy and delightful. While many a film has aspired to just those qualities, they fall as flat as a heavy, stuffy and cloying soufflé baked in an oven full of cigar smoke.


Based on the Enoch Arden poem (of a fisherman who is presumed lost only to return home years later to find his wife and family have moved on and are happy), Ellen Wagstaff Arden (get it? Arden) is presumed lost at sea in a plane crash. Fast forward 5 years and husband Nicky is ready to move on by having Ellen declared legally dead and marrying Bianca Steele (she of the clanging charm bracelet) the very same day. But wait! Ellen has been found, is alive and well and must hurry to get her family back before the new marriage is consummated. She manages to scuttle the neurotic Bianca, but Nicky must contend with the hunk named “Adam” who shared that island with his “Eve,” Ellen, for those lost 5 years.

I know – silly stuff, but representative of all that I love about Hollywood films. Sitting in the theater with my mom, I fell in love with Doris Day the minute I saw her. How did she manage to look so darn cute without benefit of modern beauty supplies?

Ellen looking cute as a button after her naval rescue
Mother Arden is played by the incomparable Thelma Ritter. I don’t care what she is doing; she elevates the film by just being there.

Mother Arden is shocked to learn her favorite daughter-in-law is not dead. She's down for the count here, but soon springs into action
Mother-in-law wants daughter-in-law back and the 2 become partners in crime against the unsuspecting newlyweds.


And look how pretty Doris looks once she is dressed in fashionable clothes. Once hubby sees her, he can't believe his eyes.

Can it be true? Is Ellen really alive?
James Garner and Doris Day have great chemistry. Both are charming and beautiful, but totally comfortable and natural. Don’t be deceived by their ease with their material and with one another - these are film artists at work. It's never easy to make it all look so easy.


Meanwhile, back to the honeymoon that won’t happen……

No honeymoon sex for you, Bianca.
Naturally, the reunion does not go smoothly. Nicky, that dog, has taken Bianca to the same honeymoon hotel that he shared with Ellen. And Bianca (the adorable and lovely Polly Bergen) will not go quietly. She wants sex on her honeymoon, and Nicky has a hard time putting her off (mainly because wife #1 is in the room next door with her ear to the wall). In order to calm Bianca down and find a good way to tell her that the dead wife has returned and he much prefers her, Nicky fakes an injury.

Nicky is a bit tangled in his lies
He returns home with his frustrated bride, only to find that Ellen is keeping an eye on them by impersonating a Swedish nurse who gives a wicked massage. Bianca finally has her fill with these lunatics and decides she should seek solace with her shrink.

At last Ellen and Nicky can reunite, except that Nicky finds out that Ellen was not alone on that island.  A series of deceptions ensue (with Ellen, fearing that Nicky won't be happy knowing she shared the island with a hunky Chuck Connors, trying to enlist the puny Don Knotts to play her island companion). See? The story is silly, outdated, and kind of dumb but with Doris Day, James Garner, Polly Bergen, Don Knotts, Chuck Connors, even John Astin and Edgar Buchanan - come on, it’s like a big old hug from a Hollywood comfortable shoe.

A  Comfort Food Cast
 In 1963, at age 10, this film produced 2 scenes that made me laugh so hard I never forgot them. The first was the scene with Doris Day giving Polly Bergen a Swedish massage that turns into a jealous pummeling. The second was Doris driving through a car wash in a convertible with the top down. It tickled my funny bone then, and, frankly, still does.


Ellen's massage turns into a cat-fight with Bianca

Aside from some fond memories, this film has some gorgeous shots of the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where “Adam” works as a lifeguard.

Ellen and Nicky share a moment at the Beverly Hills Hotel

Once Nicky learns that "Adam" is looks like Chuck Connors rather than Don Knotts, his imagination runs wild. Just what were Adam and Eve doing on that island for 5 years?

 
Nicky's imagination runs wild

As most everyone knows, this was the last film Marilyn Monroe was making before she died. Only a bit of film was shot, but one can only wonder what might have been.


Her co-star was to have been Dean Martin, who begged off of the film when, after Monroe’s death, Lee Remick was cast as Ellen. Eventually we ended up with Doris and Jim – more wholesome, I’m sure.

There’s a kind of disturbing part of the story concerning the children. When Ellen appears to them, they have no idea who she is. What did Nicky do – burn every photo of Ellen?


Of course, all’s well that ends well and Nicky and Ellen and the little girls all reunite for one big pool party. By the way, Jim looked mighty nice in that bathing suit. Okay, so it wasn't "My Favorite Wife," but it was fun and in modern, colorful eye-opening Cinemascope - just the way we liked it back in 1963!



This is my entry in the Cinemascope Blogathon hosted by Classic Becky's Brain Food and Wide Screen World. Click HERE for the big scoop on the Cinemascope!



Saturday, March 7, 2015

Russia in Classic Film: The Last Command (1928)

Oh those Russians - so passionate, so revolutionary, so ...Russian! This is my entry in the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently. Click here for a complete list of participants.


Josef Von Sternberg's "The Last Command" (1928) has it all: World War I, the Russian Revolution and Hollywood all rolled into one great film. Based (kind of) on a true story, "The Last Command" tells the story of a great Russian General/Grand Duke who falls victim to some Bolsheviks and ends up as a Hollywood extra working for $7.50 a day.

William Powell as the Bolshevik turned Director
While thumbing through some photos in search of the right face for a small part of a Russian general, Hollywood director Leo Andreyev (William Powell) comes across a familiar face.  He instructs his assistant to call the man and have the extra report for work in his film.

The General as a $7.50 a day Hollywood extra
The lowly extra (played with brilliance by Emil Jannings) suffers the indignities of the cattle call at the Hollywood studios. He appears to be a man who has suffered a great deal. As he gets ready to go on set, the old actor flashes back to Russia in 1917. No longer is he a desperate actor working for crumbs. Instead, he is Grand Duke Sergius Alexander, commander of the Russian Imperial army and cousin of the Czar. He is also the owner of a luxurious fur coat, coveted by his underling, and a riding crop.

The General at the top of his game
The General is a bit of an arrogant elitist and treats his staff with disdain (in one of many ironic scenes throughout the film, we had earlier seen that director Andreyev treats his staff in much the same manner). When an underling is found wearing his beautiful coat, the General humiliates him, threatening to save the coat and shoot its contents if the offender ever dares wear it again.

Not only does the General have to contend with the daily stress of world War I, he also has to be mindful of the revolutionaries that threaten the very foundation of Imperial Russia. Passports are routinely checked to weed out these revolutionaries and 2 questionable passports cross his desk one day: one for the dangerous revolutionary Leo Andreyev and the other for the equally dangerous and extremely beautiful Natalie Dabrovna (Evelyn Brent). Both are working as actors who entertain the soldiers while surreptitiously participating in Bolshevik activities. 
The passport photo that leads to love
The General decides to amuse himself with these 2 and has them sent to his office. An angry exchange with Andreyev results in the General slashing the actor across the face with his whip. Andreyev is quickly whisked off to jail, but the General decides he would like to keep Natalie around as his "guest." To her surprise, she learns that the General is a man of honor who deeply cares for his troops and loves his country as much as she does. Her grudging respect eventually turns to love.

Leo's face after the whip

The General loses his heart (and pearls) to Natalie
The train on which the General and his company, as well as Natalie, are travelling is intercepted by revolutionaries and Natalie, in an effort to save him, pretends to despise him and allows him to be humiliated. She helps him escape (returning to him the valuable pearls he had earlier given her; these will finance his way out of the country). While the General lies dazed from his leap off the train he watches in horror as the same train, carrying Natalie, veers off its tracks and plunges into an icy river. 

Captured, abused and humiliated by the Bolsheviks
Fast forward to Hollywood and a dramatic reversal of roles: Andreyev is the powerful director and Sergius is at his mercy. At last the 2 enemies come face to face. Andreyev hands the General a whip, telling him that he knows Sergious knows how to use it (ouch).

The 2 enemies meet face to face
Sergius prepares for his role as the Russian General in the trenches, but something snaps. When an actor in the scene tells him his has given his last command, the General loses his grip on reality and imagines that he is once again on the battlefield fighting for Russia. After an impassioned performance, he collapses. Andreyev, who has no cause to be kind to him, assures him that the Imperial army has won. An assistant notes that it was too bad the old man died because he was a great actor. Andryev, understanding the love of Russia that binds them, replies that he was also a great man. 

The extra as star
The film is totally Jannings' show. His power is undeniable and his performance was awarded with the very first Oscar for best actor (along with his work in "The Way of All Flesh"). William Powell is clearly poised for stardom and is convincing and alluring as the revolutionary turned Hollywood director. And speaking of alluring, Evelyn Brent is a perfect Von Sternberg muse as the complicated Natalie. 

Natalie showing lots of leg for 1917
The love for Russia crossed class lines and continents, uniting Czarist and Bolshevik in a crazy place called Hollywood in this masterful and unforgettable Von Sternberg classic.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You Stepped Out of a Dream: Madeleine Carroll

This is my entry in the Madeleine Carroll Blogathon hosted by the lovely ladies at Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings. Click Here to read more about the beauteous Miss Madeleine.




Many years ago I had a friend named John. John was an elderly gentleman who grew up poor in the Bronx and became something of a self-made man, while he lived in obvious comfort, he loved to tell stories about his youth in the Bronx, growing up with many brothers and sisters and making do with very little. As we got to know one another better, we discovered that we shared a love of classic film, or, as we called them back then, old movies. He would sometimes call me in the middle of the day to try to stump me with a trivia question or to identify the name of an actor or actress whose name he couldn't remember.

Madeleine casts her spell
One of John's favorite movie stories to tell (and when he liked a story he told it many times) was about his first crush - Madeleine Carroll. John was very proud of his Irish heritage and never let anyone forget that Madeleine was a (half) Irish lass, herself. As a boy, the vision of love and romance that was Princess Flavia from 1937's "The Prisoner of Zenda" never left him and formed his image of a desirable woman.

Around this time I made my first trip to Hollywood. This was right before the days of EBay, so movie memorabilia was not so easy to come by if you didn't go out of your way for it. while diving through treasures at the Larry Edmunds Bookstore, I came across a press photo of Madeleine and knew it was something John would love. He was delighted and grateful and immediately found a place for her on his desk next to his wife and children and grandchildren. I was so happy that I could add a little Madeleine to his daily life.

Princess Flavia
This got me thinking of of how those first movie crushes shape our desires as we sail forth into the real world and into adulthood. In 1963 my Mom and I went to see "Charade" and forever after Audrey Hepburn has been my ideal of the woman I would like to be and Cary Grant as the man I wanted to love me.

The photo that sat on John's desk
So, here's to you, my old friend John. Thank you for sharing your story of your young love for this beautiful actress and how her perfect image always lingered in your dreams.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lucille Ricksen: Tragic Star

2015 is the year of the Tragic Star at A Person in the Dark. February's Tragic Star is Lucille Ricksen.
Lucille graces the cover of Picture Play: she was only 13
Sadly, dying young is an all too common story in Hollywood. However, the story of Lucille Ricksen would make even the the most cynical among us break a bead of sweat or two.
Charming Child: Lucille's beauty caught the eye of Hollywood
Lucille's story has all of the ingredients of a cliched story of the quest for fortune and fame. 

The daughter of Danish immigrants, little Lucille (born Ingeborg Myrtle Elisabeth Ericksen) began earning her keep at age 4 as a model. While most actresses shave a year or two off of their actual year of birth, Lucille's parents added a year, always making her older than her real age (she was born in 1910, but was reported to be born in 1909). Her charming looks caught the attention of Hollywood and, in 1920 Lucille and her ever-watchful mama, Ingeborg,were summoned by Samuel Goldwyn for Lucille to appear in a series of short films. At age 10, Lucille was on her way.


Lucille is featured in an advertisement for the Edgar Pomeroy serial
Little Lucille was surely the family's breadwinner (family included father Samuel and brother Marshall in addition to mama Ingeborg). From the moment she stepped before the camera, Lucille worked steadily and without respite.  But, besides having the face of an angel, the camera revealed something else: Lucille photographed much older than her actual age. Jackpot!


Young teen Lucille photographed by Edwin Bower Hesser
And so, from about 1922 (at age 12), many of Lucille's roles cast her as a woman. In 1924, along with Clara Bow and Dorothy Mackaill, she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star. Big things were predicted for Lucille.


Lucille (second from left next to Clara Bow) with her fellow baby stars
Sadly, fate had other plans for Lucille. From 1922 through 1924, Lucille appeared in 24 films. While working on 1924's The Galloping Fish with Sydney Chaplin*, Lucille fell ill and remained bedridden for weeks. Her exhausted and fragile condition only made her recovery more difficult and she was ultimately diagnosed with  tuberculosis. While tending to her daughter, mama Ingeborg suffered a heart attack and died in February 1925. Cared for by Hollywood friends, including actress Lois Wilson and Producer Paul Bern (who paid for her medical care), Lucille passed away only a few weeks later on March 13, 1925. She was only 14.
A rather disturbing photo of Lucille and her older brother, Marshall. 
The death of the beautiful Lucille Ricksen sent a chill through Hollywood. She was not a leading lady of 16 as the fan magazines pronounced, but a child of 14; a child who never had a real childhood. A lesson should have been learned, but there were more childhoods sacrificed to Hollywood to come. 



Please visit these sites for a more comprehensive version of Lucille Ricksen's story:

Michael G. Ankerich's Close-Ups and Long Shots: Lucille Ricksen: Sacrificed to Hollywood

Lucille's story is also covered in Michael G. Ankerich's Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen

and

Silence is Platinum

* There are some lingering rumors that Lucille died from a botched abortion with Sydney Chaplin's child, but these rumors seem to be unfounded (and nasty).