Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bitches and Blaggards: Theda Bara and Richard Widmark

This is the eighth in the "Bitches and Blaggards" series;  posts devoted to my favorite movie bad girls and rogues A bitch is a selfish, malicious woman. A blaggard is a villain, a rogue and a black-hearted man. Both are bad, both are devastatingly alluring. 

Theda Bara: Bad to the Bone
               
The original vamp, this bitch and bad girl was a sexually independent and unrepentant woman. No wonder we still love her!

The story of Theda Bara is well known: the demure Theodosia Goodman from Cincinnati Ohio is transformed by the Fox Studio Publicity Department into the screen's first sex symbol, a woman of exotic mystery whose name was an anagram for Arab death. Theda was the anti-Mary Pickford/Lillian Gish,  but the heavy perfume of the vamp was actually a breath of fresh air for her fans.

And boy did she have fans! Between 1915 and 1919 Theda was her studio's biggest star and in such extravaganzas as "Cleopatra" and "Salome," Fox spared no expense. Sadly, almost all of Theda's films have been lost. We are left with just a few glimpses of her allure in action and a boatload of enticing stills that only make what has been lost all the more painful.

A Fool There Was
This is the film that put Theda on the map as the vamp supreme. Thankfully, it is still with us. As the "vampire" who literally drains the life from her men, Theda, behind 1915 heavy make-up, is cool, purposeful and surprisingly pretty. She is a sexual predator who goes about her business with great focus.  It's not her fault that her victims are ultimately fools and oh so boring.
 
Those Photos: A reminder of lost treasure



All that remains of Theda's great epic "Cleopatra" are these few, tantalizing moments.
 Your work as been obliterated and still, Theda, we remain in awe of your power, your allure, your bad to the bone badness.
 Richard Widmark
                           
I admit I am a little conflicted about Mr. Richard Widmark. He was a fine and versatile actor, but every time I see him I just can’t get the image of giggling Tommy Udo pushing the old lady in the wheelchair down the stairs. Blaggards are supposed to be charming and bad, but Widmark, especially early in his career, was more psychotic and bad. Still, he could be a not-so-bad guy. He was awfully good looking, so he never had a hard time attracting the ladies. Now, if he wasn’t so darn good at being murderous….. 
Kiss of Death 
Widmark is horrifying and unforgettable. His performance as the menacing psychopath Tommy Udo is fearless. Shudder....
The Cobweb 
I’m including this film here, not so much for Widmark’s performance, but because this is a film about drapes. Granted, drapes as therapy in a mental institution, but still drapes. With a cast consisting of Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Gloria Grahame (terrific as always), Charles Boyer and Lillian Gish, this is a film where most of the inmates are saner than the caretakers. Widmark is handsome, but way too obsessed with the drapes.
In real life, Richard Widmark was one of the good guys. A man of peace who loved his ranch, Widmark got to show a much broader range as he aged, playing many a good and decent guy. But the thing I really liked learning about Richard Widmark was that, not only was he a movie star, he was, from an early age, a real movie fan. How nice for him that he got to fulfill his heart's desire. The Bitch and Blaggard of October: Glenn Close & Michael Douglas

16 comments:

Elizabeth Boyde said...

Love that you included Theda Bara. She's always intrigued me.

I watched the embedded movie clip, and another that was offered at the end of it - an Interview with Theda Bara. Don't know who the interviewer was (he began by talking about The Thin Man), and he mentioned being an extra on Bara's silents. That clip also showed some more stills from her "Cleopatra". Then Theda talked about how hard they worked making her movies, and that she had accepted a role in a new movie. A lot of movies were talked about that never got filmed, but I wonder what the history was on this one?! She had a really good speaking voice too; Talkies wouldn't have hurt her a bit!

Thanks for doing this series. I love the different actor/actress combinations you come up with!

karen said...

Widmark was great. I love a great villain and he played many and played them so well. His characters always had that little extra. Thumbs up to Richard!

Samantha said...

I loved Richard Widmark and Theda Bara. I loved you piece on them. The little video is great. The pictures are great.
Loved it!

Perry said...

Theda Bara sure played in a lot of costume pictures, some in only half a costume! One of the great artistic tragedies of the 20th century is that so many films are lost to us because the people who made them doubted anyone would be interested in the future. But the stills are great! Also, Richard Widmark is one of those actors who makes me smile when he hits the screen for the first time because I know I'm going to see a great performance. Thanks for posting this.

said...

Theda for sure was exotic (and with eyes that made her look like a frog, in my opinion). So sad many of her movies are lost, but I still have to watch A Fool There Was.
Richard Widmark was just great. I love him in Judgement in Nuremberg!
Kisses!

KimWilson said...

Have to give a shout out to my fellow Cincinnatian (it's a word here!) Theda Bara. She wore some heavy-ass makeup!

FlickChick said...

@ Elizabeth: Theda did have a lovely speaking voice and it is a shame that she was not able to continue her career in talkies.

FlickChick said...

@ Karen - Widmark was so good at being bad, but he was such a good actor that we was eventually able to get past the stereo-typing. He just made all thing better by his participation.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Samantha. I love that video, too.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Perry. I love your comment about costume epics in half a costume!

FlickChick said...

Le - thank you! Theda's makeup is a bit extreme, but give her a try when you are in the (vampish) mood!

FlickChick said...

Kim - I see they grow them sexy out there in Cincinnati!

The Lady Eve said...

I haven't seen much of Theda Bara - just stills and the odd film clip over the years. The make-up of her era doesn't do her any favors (these days) and she has always appeared to me as if decked out for Halloween. Should probably take another look.

My favorite film of Richard Widmark's is "Night and the City." His character is as dark as but more coherent than Tommy Udo.

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve - it certainly took me a while to come around to Theda, since most of her work is missing. But those photos! Those costumes! Those eyes! I think it's a real testament to her star power (and the Fox publicity dept.) that we still know who she is despite that fact that almost all of her films are lost

DorianTB said...

FlickChick, I really enjoyed your piece about Theda Bara, and it's a shame there are precious few films or photos of her in her heyday. I love it that in real life, she was a wholesome gal from Cincinnati! :-)

I'm glad you included Richard Widmark among your "Blaggards," especially since he played plenty of decent joes when he wasn't playing Tommy Udo! :-) I found Widmark to be an interestingly complicated character in the doomsday thriller THE BEDFORD INCIDENT, though I'm not sure I could watch it more than once, if only because his performance (as well as those of the rest of the cast) was so darn good, it haunted me all the rest of the day!

On the lighter side, I loved your wisecracks about the drapes in THE CARETAKERS! The drapes jokes had me thinking of HIGH ANXIETY, with Cloris Leachman as hilariously evil Nurse Diesel claiming the late Dr. Ashley was going to change the drapes in the Psychotic Game Room! :-) Swell post, as always!

ClassicBecky said...

I too was laughing about the drapes in the asylum! I just watched this show again the other day, and had forgotten how stupid that plot concept was! I love Richard Widmark -- so handsome and versatile. Oh boy, I feel just sick that Theda Bara's Cleopatra is lost, and her Salome. Those few seconds are such a tease for something we can't have. What a shame to lose a person's whole body of work except for 2 movies.

Love your bitches and blaggards, as always, Chick!