Monday, January 31, 2011

I Know It's Wrong (But It Looks So Right): Women Who Shoot, Men Who Smoke

I admit I am a victim of Old Hollywood's sales pitch for evil. I fall for sin every time. I hate guns in real life and I hate cigarettes in real life, but in Reel Life, man - do they look sexy!

Girls With Guns
Joan looks very comfortable with these
Seems like overkill, but Louise handles them well
I'll bet Barbara could really shoot!
Ann only shoots for food (in her skivvies)

Bette looks mighty natural with a pistol

Carole obviously takes pleasure in firing off a round or two
As does Doris (though I suspect she will only shoot humans, not animals)
Kate: a straight shooter if there ever was one
Probably a Givenchy water pistol
Men Who Smoke
Cary: Smooth and Satisfying
Rudy: Smoldering Italian (Part 1)
Marcello: Smoldering Italian (Part 2)

Bob: Authentic American Blend (with a hint of wacky tabacky)

Charles: Unfiltered French
Errol: Bold western brand by way of Australia and Tasmania
I'd walk a mile for Bill...
Steve: Come all the way up to Cool
It's wrong! It's wrong! It's wrong! Thank goodness we know better and we are healthier. Forgive me, but, damn they look so sexy.
Cigar smokers can be sexy,too

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ann Dvorak: A Penthouse, Pre-Code and You

Second in a series about strong women in film. Strong women are independent, beautiful, sexy, feminine and just want everything in life that a man wants and believe that they have every right to have it!

Ann Dvorak was an ultra-feminine actress whose first finest hours occurred in the pre-code era of film. Unlike other strong women in film, there was nothing masculine about her. Her voice, her form, her inclinations were 100% female - not a drop of testosterone in sight. Bette Davis, and most of the other film women who are perceived as "strong" (many who will be spotlighted here in upcoming months), had masculine qualities that enabled them to stand toe to toe with men in a man's world, be it their will, determination or toughness. But not Ann. An unusual beauty, she was sleek, chic, feline and oozed femininity. She could be tough, but it was not the "in your face" grit that so many strong women have. Her toughness was all high-wire nerves. Any woman will tell you that a display of nervous ferocity will make even the strongest male cower in fear, and no one displayed frayed nerves like Ann Dvorak. She was all woman and wanted the best of a woman's world and no man was going to keep her from it! Only a script could intervene.

Two of Ann's best known roles are from the pre-code era of films made from  the late 1920s through 1934 when Hollywood let down its hair and loosened its tie, corset and tongue. It was a rough world during the Great Depression, inhabited by tough men and tougher women.

Pointing the gun at her brother,  she later
 relents and dies in his arms:
"I am you and you are me."
"Scarface" was Ann's first big break and she made an explosive impact. Playing Cesca, the sister of gangster Tony Camonte (played by Paul Muni) she is electrifying. One of the more scandalous aspects of the story is the incestuous attraction Tony has for Cesca. She allows Tony to adore her, happily accepting the money her gives her in exchange for not fooling with a casual beau. Her eyes light up with the prospect of pretty things as she happily anticipates a shopping spree. She later turns defiant and, in a nervy display of rebellion, seduces Tony's loyal right-hand man, Guino (played by a coin-flipping George Raft). Tragedy ensues, and Cesca, unable to break the bond with Tony, dies by his side, the only one loyal to him at the end. Her death scene is brilliant.While she is always edgy and emotional, she never overacts. Passionate and ferocious, Ann is never less than great and always in control.

Ann's finest pre-code moment came in 1932's "Three on a Match." If you have never seen this film, run now and find it. "Three on a Match" has it all: friendship, love, drugs, infidelity, violence and self-sacrifice. And all in 63 minutes!

Beautiful, restless and headstrong
Ann plays Vivian , a restless rich girl who, bored with husband Warren William, ditches him and her son for some excitement with bad boy gambler Lyle Talbot. Alcoholism and drug addiction (to cocaine, supplied by a really nasty Humphrey Bogart) follow, allowing Ann a wild, over-the-top finale that could only have come in Hollywood during those years. Hang in there for Ann's fabulous finish as a drug-wasted willful woman who, through her foolish, headstrong whims, has put the life of her son in jeopardy. This is the first of two films in which Ann co-starred with Bette Davis (the other being the 1934 "Housewife") and stole the show. Ann's role in this film was much flashier than Bette's, which indicates where she stood in the studio's pecking order at that time (but Bette looked very cute in a bathing suit and chemise).
Other early Ann Dvorak highlights are "The Strange Love of Molly Louvain" where she gets to sing a little of Penthouse Serenade (Ann had musical talents that were occasionally used) and "G-Men" where she gets to die in a phone booth (you just know when anyone walks into a phone booth in an early Warner Brothers film they were done for).

In 1932 she seemed ready to for super-stardom at Warner Brothers, but apparently Ann was just as willful in real life as in the movies. A marriage and her personal life took precedence over her career and, later, a legal battle with Warner Brothers over her contract (the first, before Cagney, Davis & De Havilland) put her on the back burners of non "A" films.

There were other fine performances in not so fine films, but one more moment of glory awaited - one more chance for her to wipe the floor with a bigger star. 1950's "A Life of Her Own" starred Lana Turner, but Ann, as an elegant, used-up and worn-out fashion model, stole the show in her 10 minutes or so on film. And - she gets to make another exit via a leap out of a window, bracketing her greatest early and late roles with suicides via high rise windows. When Ann is on screen, you barely know Lana is in the room, which is not surprising. If this gal could out-shine Bette Davis, what chance did poor Lana have?
Lana might look better out of clothes,
but Ann sure looked more like a fashion model in them!

Ann Dvorak - what a woman, what an actress. Once she gets under your skin, you'll never look back!

 A terrific site that is all about Ann is "Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What More Is There To Say About Cary Grant?

Is there anything left to be said about Cary Grant? As time goes by, he is probably the most popular, most enduring and endearing of all classic Hollywood stars. We love him and have praised him and will continue to praise him to the skies. We never tire of him. He could do it all and I can find no fault.

Well, maybe one: being human, he could not appear in every movie ever made.

What if Cary had been able to appear in some classics that were, of course, diminished by his non-participation? Here are a few that, personally, I think would have been immensely improved by his presence.


Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes just never did it for me. How could Scarlett possible prefer him to Clark Gable? Now, no one could possibly replace Mr. Gable as Rhett Butler, but if Scarlett had to choose between him and Cary, that would have presented Miss O'Hara will an almost impossible dilemma! Since Howard was allowed to maintain his British accent, Cary would have been just as plausible. Imagine the scene in the orchard when Scarlett and Ashley throw caution to the wind and share a passionate kiss? Or the scene when Scarlett kisses Ashely before he goes off to war (while poor wife Melanie is upstairs, taken to her bed)? Or the scene of Scarlett's scandalous abandon when she reveals her love to Ashley in the library at Twelve Oaks?  If only.....
Dreaming of Gable or Grant?


Gary Cooper just seemed too old for such a young Audrey Hepburn. He was only a few years older than Cary, but seemed much older at that point and much more world-weary. We know that Cary and Audrey had great chemistry (demonstrated six years later in "Charade") and Audrey being swept away by a six-years younger Cary would not only seem perfectly understandable, but wouldn't have that faint whiff of something-not-quite-right-here about it. The delicacy required in the scene where she hides in his apartment would have been cake for Cary; the scene in which he pulls her into the train fraught with more romance. And I do believe that future father-in-law Maurice Chevalier would have been much more pleased. How unfortunate that Billy Wilder and Mr. Grant never hooked up.
What is this old man doing in my room? Bring me Cary Grant!

Cary could be sinister, too, and superficial. What fun it would have been to see him ping-pong back and forth between Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth in "Mildred Pierce." Oh, Zachary Scott was alright, but in the person of Cary Grant we could believe these 2 women doing almost anything to get him and keep him.
Joan and Cary would have been quite an interesting star cocktail, especially in this movie. Joan was at her best and Cary would have to have been at his most charming and caddish to keep pace.
Two minds with but a single thought: Cary Grant

Tyrone Power is very good in this film. He plays against type, but I can see him acting. Cary Grant could have aced this oily conman who had a way with the ladies and made it seem like second skin. Power was fine, but not quite sincere. Cary would have you believing in his innocence (even though you knew he was guilty). He would have been more than a match for Marlene Dietrich at her duplicitous best, and the scenes between Cary and Charles Laughton make for delicious contemplation. Billy Wilder: why did you never call Cary?
I would lie, cheat and kill for Cary Grant!

Another case of a too-old, rather joyless man for the sparkling Audrey. While Bill Holden was perfectly believable as a crush, it was a little (OK -VERY) hard to swallow Humphrey Bogart as her ultimate love interest. Bogey looked old and acted old. I know the character was supposed to be stodgy, but think how much fun an older version of Cary's "Bringing Up Baby" professor would have been here. He would have really given Bill a run for his money and Audrey's eventual swan dive into love would have seemed inevitable. Their dance to Isn't it Romantic? would have been a classic. Another case of Billy Wilder needing Cary Grant.

I thought I wanted Bill Holden, but Cary Grant is looking mighty swell!

I have a hard time coming up with any great role that Cary Grant could not have played. Hamlet? Abraham Lincoln? The Wizard of Oz? I believe in Cary Grant! He might not seem right at first, but I am sure he would have found a way to make it his own. Well, a girl can dream, can't she? And who better to dream about than Cary Grant, who, night after night, continues to star in countless dreams around the world.
See you in my dreams, Lover

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bette Davis - No Apologies

First in a monthly series about strong women in film. Strong women are independent, beautiful, sexy, feminine and just want everything in life that a man wants and believe that they have every right to have it!

Bette Davis was not apologetic. In a world that values surface over substance, frivolity over soul and youth over age, Ms. Bette Davis flipped a figurative bird to anyone who thought they could be her boss and rode roughshod over them all. And often looked mighty adorable while doing so!

She was, like all great stars, unique. Nobody looked like her, sounded like her, or moved like her. Her early roles sometimes called upon her to be nothing more than a blonde cutie, but even then she seemed like a bundle of pre-lit dynamite rather than the babe-next-door. She might not have been the most beautiful gal in the room, but she made you believe she was. Bette was always highly impressed with herself and probably the least convincing of her characters were the demure ones (except when they later morphed into a chic tigress with a spine of steel).  In "Fashions of 1934 " her part could have been played by any number of ingénues on the Warner Brothers payroll, but once she appears you find yourself asking "where did she come from?" or "how did this seemingly intelligent, educated, and clever gal get mixed up with this bunch of dopes?"

Though Bette sometimes played low-class women, she never had that "regular Jill" way about her like Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Blondell. Her trashy tearoom waitress, Mildred, in "Of Human Bondage" was not always believable, but her barely controlled wildness put it across. She seethed.

At the height of her powers no one could touch her. She got the right scripts and the right directors and she flourished. Beneath the good breeding and upright Yankee background simmered a woman of passion. "Jezebel", "The Letter", "Dark Victory" and "Now Voyager" showcased her range, her passion, her sex appeal and her strength and produced portraits of unforgettable screen heroines. 

Starting with the 1950s, no longer young by Hollywood standards, Bette soldiered on and gave us a gallery of women fighting to be noticed in a society where they have become invisible. "All About Eve" gave us an aging star eclipsed by youth (and treachery). Her sophistication and wit were on display, but she made you feel the pain. "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane" and "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" gave us women who flamboyantly  demanded that the world pay attention. Behind the aging facade were individuals who were vulnerable and whose feelings mattered.

What is an independent woman? To our modern sensibilities, it is a woman who makes her own way in this man's world. To movie audiences in the 20s through, let's face it, the present, that vision of an independent woman is often flirted with, but love is always the goal. Bette's roles were no different. Her strong personality ideally fit those roles of either career women or women whose passionate desires were repressed by society, but she succumbed to love willingly and beautifully. What made her unique was that  her independence was organic. Her personality seemed to need no one. She was enough for her self by herself.

Of course, the fact that she was a slam-bang great dramatic actress helped! Like a great prize-fighter she was canny, light on her feet and, above all, courageous.She was, and is, an inspiration to all who admire great acting by a great individual with the heart of a lion. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

SCANDAL Rocks the Keaton Administration! #7 in a series of 7

While President Buster was busy trying to recover from his media and product demonstration debacle, his Cabinet had been busy:

Vice President Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle: While Roscoe always meant to support Buster, he really did not anticipate the amount of work it took to be a Vice President. Feeling pretty exhausted, he decided to take a little weekend holiday in San Francisco and throw a party for all of his friends. Things got out of hand and the next thing you know, SCANDAL!

Secretary of Transportation Mable Normand: While Mabel was doing an excellent job, she had the bad luck of being the last person to see murdered director William Desmond Taylor alive. While Mabel was not considered a credible suspect, reports that her affinity for "speed" was not confined to motorcycles only served to create more scandal.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Mary Miles Minter had a deeper involvement in the Taylor murder. Personal effecs from Miss Minter, such as a mash note to the director, were found at Taylor's residence. Little MMM was not so innocent and was now embroiled in the scandal.

While Secretary of Urban Affairs Harold Lloyd was not embroiled in a scandal, he did manage to break some very large municipal structures, costing the government money and causing the administration embarrassment.

Secretary of the Treasury, Clara Bow, took some time off and lost the monthly social security budget.

Secretary of Justice Mack Sennett was spending more time with his Bathing Beauties instead of his Kops. Carloads were seen coming and going on a regular basis from his residence.
Secretary of Defense Harry Houdini claimed that the entire Defense Budget just magically disappeared!

But Buster found that the Cabinet has been diverting funds to another cabinet!
To make matters worse, Brown Eyes had left him for Elmer the Bull.
The rest of the Cabinet quit in disgust. Buster was despondent.
Congress and America called for impeachment. However, before hearings could begin, a force greater than Washington stepped in. The Hollywood Moguls made a deal with the politicians: let Buster return to Hollywood to make movies and just pretend this never happened and the Democrats and the Republicans could regain control of the nation. Both parties took a minute to think about this and said "Done Deal!"

And so it was that Buster packed his bags and moved out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
It had all been a grueling experience. Back in Hollywood again, Buster just needed some rest. Just as a he felt himself drifting off into a peaceful sleep, there was a gentle hand on his shoulder. His wife, Natalie, was shaking him, telling him that it was time to get up and go to work at the studio. After all, he had to work to support the lavish lifestyle she was accustomed to.
Was it all a dream? It seemed so real. But, there was no evidence of a cow in residence and it was Natalie as his bride in the picture frame by the bedside.

Buster vowed to lay off the hootch.

As he was getting ready to leave for a day of movie-making, Natalie reminded Buster that today was Election Day and asked if he going to vote.

Buster thought long and hard.
"No, Dear," said Buster. "I think I'll pass this year."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Keaton White House Update: Buster Struggles; The First Lady as Fashionista: #6 in a Series of 7

"This job has really aged me."
While poor President Buster continued to be hounded from the left, right, center and rear, First Lady Brown eyes captured the imagination of the American and worldwide fashion scene.

Buster "bet the ranch" and his political future on three new projects to revitalize the American economy.

First: The Betamax
This proved a little too complicated
Next, Buster demonstrated the "new Coke" to a group of college students

But, that didn't work out too well, either.

Buster's last hope was pinned on a new "green" car by Ford. Everything was riding on it!

Things just weren't looking up for Buster. He decided to confer with his Cabinet.

Meanwhile, following in the footsteps of other First Ladies, Brown Eyes became a fashion trend setter. American women looked to her for the latest in fashion inspiration.

Like many gals, brown eyes changed her hair color. While once a brownette, good friend (and Secretary of State) Mary Pickford had  long talks and took many long walks with Brown Eyes, strategizing about her appearance.

It was Mary who convinced Brown Eyes to develop a more sophisticated look and decided that a change in hair color would make all the difference!

She became a multi-toned black and white. Women were inspired to copy her new look:

Not only did women copy her hair color, they also emulated other aspects of her appearance:
Boots with a western theme
An udderly adorable knit cap
Baby bottle
Another cow-cap

Unmentionables (The President did not approve!)

Baby's ensemble
School children show their support
Not only was poor Buster hounded by the press, the Congress and the people, Brown Eyes was too busy basking in the spotlight to provide any comfort to her husband (and she seemed to be spending a lot of time with Elmer the Bull).

Buster was feeling about as low as can be, but he figured things just couldn't get worse, could they? Now, what was his Cabinet up to?

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