Wednesday, November 26, 2014

WHAT IS BEAUTY?

I recently came across a list I made about 20 (yikes!) years ago of those stars who I considered to be the 10 most beautiful male and female stars. I have always viewed film as  a medium designed to pay tribute to and honor the beauty of the human face, form and spirit. But what, exactly, is beauty? I am wondering if my reasons for selecting them have changed over the years...

Here they are in no particular order.

Women

Edna Purviance

While never the greatest of beauties, Edna holds a special place in my heart. Her onscreen relationship with Chaplin never fails to enchant me. Add to that a sense of mystery and intrigue (who was Edna Purviance?) and she still makes the top 10.

Clara Bow

Yes, Clara still does it for me. She is excessively pretty, but her verve and joy elevate mere prettiness into beauty for me.


Mary Pickford

Yes - they had faces then. Mary, by virtue of her face and physical grace and indomitable spirit still holds a place in the top 10.

Grace Kelly

Sheer beauty, style and a cool that is inexplicably warm, Grace still is top-10 royalty.

Audrey Hepburn

Same goes for Audrey. She remains golden for me. Her style is legendary, but it is her charm and smile that do it for me.

Vivien Leigh

One of cinema's most beautiful faces. True then, true now, true forever.

Rita Hayworth

Simply a beautiful woman - but there is an almost shameless aching that goes beyond a beautiful face and form.

Jean Harlow

I still adore the electroplated platinum Jean, but I think, for now, she falls out of the top-10.

Judy Garland

Ah, a most unique beauty. Her's is a heart beating on the screen. None is more worthy of our love. She stays.

Ann Sheridan

She's a down to earth beauty and one half of one of my favorite screen teams (with James Cagney). She is teetering in the top and might fall to 11, but I still love this lady.

Men

Buster Keaton

Ah, that face. Beautiful. He stays.

Charlie Chaplin

His face, his genius, his physical grace, his humanity and courage. He stays.

Laurence Olivier

I am not as mad for him as I once was, but, really, he was a god. He stays.

James Cagney

Never the most handsome guy, his beauty comes from his irresistible charisma. It makes him beautiful and he stays.

Clark Gable

Well, he sure was a manly man and gorgeous. Oh, and sexy. Should he stay? Not sure.....wait, what am I - nuts?

Douglas Fairbanks

Ah, he is the illusion of a beautiful adventure. Maybe not my favorite actor, but he is beautiful. I might not place him in a new top-10, but he holds an honorary place for the sheer joy he brings to the screen.

Cary Grant

No debate here. Handsome, charming, sexy and funny, he not only stays, but is in the "most beautiful" Hall of Fame. Case closed.

Fred Astaire  

Like Cagney, it has nothing to do with conventional looks. He is a charmer, he is joy and he stays.

Gene Kelly

Well, my hormones certainly got the best of me. He stays.

John Wayne

Never my favorite actor, or even star, but he was beautiful the way the American west is beautiful. He is undeniable and, I guess, he has to stay.


So, it looks as though my taste hasn't changed much over time. If anything, I could greatly expand my choices. Certainly, I would swap out Garbo for Harlow and throw in young Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Gary Cooper for starters. But, it was fun to revisit my earlier choices and know that I still love them all so very much. I guess beauty really is in the eye - and the heart - of the beholder.

Which stars define beauty for you?

Monday, November 17, 2014

WHAT A CHARACTER! ANN DVORAK and the road less traveled

This is my entry in the What A Character Blogathon hosted by Paula at Paula's Cinema Club, Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled and Aurora at Once Upon a Screen. Check out their sites for more fabulous film characters.  

I admit to being an Ann Dvorak freak and have written about her often. However, most of my gushings have been over her as the almost A-list star and rarely about her later shift into secondary and character roles.
Ann was a limber veteran of the chorus

Ann Dvorak did it all. The daughter of silent film actress Anna Lehr, Ann did a short stint as a child actress and then, as a teenager, because a member of the chorus in early MGM musicals (she is all over the chorus in 1929's "The Hollywood Review"). She exploded on the screen as Cesca in 1932's "Scarface," and made a dramatic impression in such films as "Three on a Match," "The Strange Love of Molly Louvain," and "Housewife." It was a testament to Warner Brothers' faith in Ann that she was top billed over Bette Davis in both "Three on a Match" and "Housewife" (later re-issues featured Bette, but originally Ann was billed first). 
As Cesca in "Scarface"


Coked up and ready to jump out of the window
to save her son in "Three on a Match"

In 1932-1934, Ann seemed to be on her way to super-stardom, but she lacked something that Bette Davis had in abundance: a single-minded dedication to her career. She placed her marriage to actor/director Leslie Fenton  before her career and simultaneously took on Warner Brothers in a lengthy, and ultimately futile, pay dispute. After that Ann free-lanced, but never again got a shot at a starring role in a top flight film. She veered between leading roles in poor films and supporting roles in good films. But, whatever Ann did, she always improved the quality of the film just by being there. She was quirky, individualistic and not at all like anyone else.

Three of Ann's most notable character roles were in these films:

Out of the Blue (1947)
No star billing for Ann, but she stole the show
George Brent and Virginia Mayo were the stars and Carole Landis was getting the star treatment, but Ann, as the perpetually drunk Olive steals the show. In a rare chance to show some comedy flair, Ann is the only reason to see this fluffy, kinda-like weekend at Bernie's affair.
Ann spent a great deal of her time passed out in "Out of the Blue"

Our Very Own (1950)

As the unwed birth mother who gave up Ann Blyth, Ann gives perhaps her strongest supporting performance. In a part that could easily have become a cliche, she gives the part of Gert great depth and complexity. She is a poor soul, a miserable housewife trapped in miserable marriage and resigned to her fate. She doesn't want her husband to know she had a child out of wedlock, but she agrees to meet her birth daughter nonetheless. It is a small part, but showy and Ann Dvorak showed audiences what they had been missing.
Ann Byth was sure glad to get home to her adoptive
family after meeting Gert

A Life of Her Own (1950)

Ann only had 10 minutes of screen time in this film, but she is unforgettable as the aging model whose decline and demise proves a cautionary tale to Lana Turner. As Mary Ashlon, Ann wipes the floor with poor little Lana. As her career fades, a bitter Mary turn to drink and finally commits suicide by taking a swan dive out of a high rise window (just as she did when Ann Dvorak's career was on fire in "Three on a Match." Turner Classic Movies named Ann's performance as Mary Ashlon one of its 10 great overlooked performances.

Ann as the chic, doomed Mary Ashlon
Ann Dvorak was always more than her career. She was a passionate wife (3 times), an ambulance driver in WW II London, and a woman of many non-theatrical interests. Unfortunately,her acting talent was her bread and butter and, in that, she faltered. While she always played a prominent part in all of her films, she never again found that comeback hit. Her last film was a supporting role in the Humphrey Bogart/Gene Tierney film "The Secret of Convict Lake." She made a few TV appearances after that and then quietly chucked it all for a retirement in Hawaii, where she died in 1979.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

RUBBAH!! Jeanne Eagels in THE LETTER

This is my entry in the British Empire Blogathon, hosted by Phantom Empires and The Stalking Moon.  Click HERE for more fabulous entries!



What happens when you plunk a cool, icy Brit down in the middle of the steamy tropics? Do you really have to ask? Why, illicit sex, mayhem and usually murder, of course. All done with a bit of a stiff (if slightly trembling) upper lip. The British Empire was not kind to the women who followed their men to the colonies.

Take that!
Bette Davis and William Wyler knocked it out of the park with their version 1940 of Somerset Maughm’s “The Letter.” Who can forget Bette’s skill with that pistol? But, before Bette got all hot and bothered down on the plantation, there was 1929 version of this tale of passion starring the legendary Jeanne Eagels.

Poor little Leslie Crosbie, wife of a plantation lord who loves his rubber (or as Leslie pronounces it – rubbah) better than her. Spirited from the comforts of Mother England to the depths of the colonies, she is lonely and bored. What oh what is a neglected wife to do? Especially when it is so darn HOT? Why, dally with a fellow Brit, Geoffrey Hammond, of course (note: always watch out for someone who spells his name “Geoffrey’ – shifty in my book). But, the damn dog likes his Chinese mistress (Li-Ti) even better than Leslie, who becomes yesterday’s news. Imagine! Not only is it an affront to white women everywhere, but an insult to the Mother Country, as well. Leslie can’t bear to be rejected for an Oriental, of all things, and, in a fit of passionate rage, she shots the scoundrel. Dead.

Geoffrey is unmoved
Ah, but those Brits take care of their own. They have their own form of justice and see what they want to see. Presenting herself as the picture of British Womanhood on the stand, Leslie blatantly lies, claiming that she had nothing to do with old Geoffrey and that she shot him because he tried to – GASP! – rape her.  She is found to be innocent of murder, but all is not well on the rubber plantation. Li-Ti has a letter written by Leslie to Hammond which contains proof of their relationship. 


Li-Ti: Geoff preferred her charms and she had the letter

Li-Ti offers, through Leslie’s attorney, to sell it to the lying wife for $10,000. Leslie’s attorney advises her to pay for the incriminating missive and she retrieves it, but not until Li-Ti gets to verbally humiliate the woman who got away with murdering the man she loved.

"on my honor..."
Of course, hubby wants to know where the $10,000 in his bank account went and Leslie, guilty as sin yet filled with contempt for her rubber lord, spills the beans. All of them. Beans all over the place. Her punishment? No more money and a life sentence on the plantation. No more Harrods for you!

This 1929 version is pretty creaky, but it is worth seeking out for a rare view of Jeanne Eagels. I swear, I thought that if I touched the TV screen while she was on I was going to get an electric shock. She is a raw nerve, over the top for sure, but impossible to ignore. And when she declares to that pill of a husband that “with all my heart and soul I still love the man I killed,” it is impossible not to be in the moment with her – the very definition of great screen acting.



The 1940 version is smoother in every way, but this version has other pleasures besides Miss Eagels' feverish performance. Because it is pre-code, the original ending where Leslie gets away with murder is retained. Poor Bette must pay for her crime and is stabbed by Hammond's woman (who is now his wife rather than lover). 

Another treat is Herbert Marshall as the callous Hammond. He plays the bore of a husband in the 1940 version (as Hammond never appears in that version at all).


In the end, it is all about the chance to see Jeanne Eagels in action. Dead by the time the movie came out, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, but did not win. She paints a compelling portrait of a woman gone mad with tropic fever and passion. I swear, Bette Davis looks positively sedate next to this woman and that is no mean feat.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Forgotten Stars Blogathon: Evelyn Brent

This is my entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association Forgotten Stars blogathon. Click HERE to read more entries about stars who were once at the top of the heap.

EVELYN BRENT: 
The Scowling Seductress of the Silents
the beauteous Evelyn Brent
The rise and fall of Evelyn Brent is a true Hollywood story. Born Mary Elizabeth Riggs in either Tampa, Florida or Syracuse, New York in either 1895 or 1899 or 1901, Betty, as she was always known to friends, shook off her drab beginnings and, starting in 1915, she began appearing in silent films made in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After an initial start under her own name, she soon became Evelyn Brent. After World War I, Evelyn moved to London,where she worked steadily on the stage and in films until 1922 when she decided to try her luck in Hollywood.

Possessed of a mature beauty and an alluring scowl, Evelyn hit the ground running in Hollywood. Besides being named a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1923 (along with other budding stars Eleanor Boardman, Laura La Plante and Jobyna Ralston) and was signed to an exclusive contract with Douglas Fairbanks. Unfortunately, Doug failed to find a role for her, and she left his company to work for Associated Authors, FBO, Fox and eventually Paramount, carving a niche as the ultimate lady crook and moll. While most beautiful women are known for a beautiful smile, Evelyn was known for her scowl.From her first role in 1915 through her last silent film made in 1928, Evelyn made  over 65 films. Sadly, most of Evelyn's silent films are lost. Although most were programmers, Evelyn was always singled out for her beauty and acting.

By 1926, Evelyn was an experienced pro and finally was making her way into the front rank of stars. In 1926 she was top billed over a scene stealing Louise Brooks in "Love 'Em and Leave 'Em" and garnered great reviews in a sympathetic part.
Louise Brooks later had some rather unkind things to say about Evelyn and her acting style, but when did Louise ever give another female co-star a break?
Seriously glam
Things got even better for Evelyn when Joseph Von Sternberg selected her to star in his next 2 films. As Feathers McCoy in the 1927 classic "Underworld" Brent showed that she had the stuff day dreams are made of. Draped in feathers by Travis Banton, Evelyn proved herself a star who could hold her own with the best.
Evelyn as sexy Feathers McCoy
Things got even better when Von Sternberg chose her again for 1928's "The Last Command." Starring opposite the great Emil Jannings, she garnered great reviews and was poised for super-stardom. 
Evelyn and Emil Jannings in "The Last Command"
Evelyn as Cleopatra: a film that never was
Unfortunately, 1928 was the to be the height of Evelyn's career.  Her 2 greatest performances were under Von Sternberg's direction. One wonders if Evelyn's professional fate would have been different if Dietrich had not shown up. Shortly after those 2 great films sound and some bad luck would find Evelyn on the outside looking in.
Evelyn rocked it in this butterfly hostess gown in "Interference"
Having had stage experience, Evelyn did not fear sound and appeared to good notices in Paramount's first talking feature "Interference" (1928).  Her voice was good, but not especially distinctive and, somehow, the allure of her silent scowl lost a little luster when she spoke. In addition, her personal woes seemed to tarnish her professional reputation. 2 bad marriages and lots of money troubles left Evelyn broke and, by the early 1930s, playing secondary roles in bad films and touring in vaudeville.
A star has to keep track of her shoes

The sent of a star is a complicated thing
In typical Evelyn fashion, she seemed not to mind the loss of luxury and life on the road, but she soon came back to Hollywood (with husband #3: Harry Fox of foxtrot fame) and settled into a life of low budget films and small parts. She almost always received good reviews and the critics and audiences alike always seemed to welcome her presence, but the star ship had sailed for Evelyn Brent.
By 1937 former stars Brent and Louise Brooks were
posing as also rans in a low-budget film. Louise's part was cut
and Evelyn is barely seen in "King of Gamblers"
Evelyn Brent once represented the femme fatale glamour of a true Hollywood star, but as time went on she became a forgotten star. She worked steadily through the 30s and 40s, always getting good reviews and always appearing in forgettable films. She worked for a while for a talent agency, but had retired by 1950. She was still on the casting lists for small roles and extra work when she died in 1975.

In 1972 film historian John Kobal sought her out and found a "gaunt old woman with wiry hair" who lived modestly and spoke candidly and freely about her former life. What is clear from the interview is that Evelyn Brent never really wanted to be a star. She lacked the drive of a Crawford or Davis and when the going got tough Evelyn did not fight for her position as a star. Instead, she was content to fade into the background with her third husband (a happy marriage at last). She was proud of her career, especially of the films made with Von Sternberg, and she harbored no grudges and nursed no grudges. She had a bite of the apple and was content. Mr. Kobal summed up Evelyn perfectly:
"In 1927, the year of "Underworld," Evelyn Brent had appeared in films for thirteen years; that year she had starred in four films. In 1928 she starred in seven; seven in '29; five in '30. In 1933 she made only one film, and none in 1934. When she returned in '36, she appeared in bit parts. She was born in 1899 and died in 1975 of a heart attack. There was no failure in Evelyn's life - the failure lay in others, those who tried to make her a star. Evelyn didn't want to be a star, she just wanted to work.  And, at that she was a success, right to the end."

Gary Cooper was once head over heels in love with Evelyn.
Can you blame him?

Evelyn claims her place on the Walk of Fame
Source material included  John Kobal's "People will Talk" and "Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook" by Lynn Kear and James King. The latter has an extensive Evelyn Brent filmography.