Wednesday, February 23, 2011

And The Oscar Goes To... Some Criminally Overlooked Categories

My popcorn and Dom Perignon are at the ready and my tiara is on straight! As I settle in for a long night of red carpets, longer speeches, happy winners and not-so-happy losers, I sneak a little nap and dream of categories that were missed...

Best performance by an actress in a bad wig
Bette Davis - Beyond the Forest
"What a Dump"? What a fright wig. 
Bette's performance in this film is a bit over the top, but I think the wig might have been too tight. She is forgiven.

Barbara Stanwyck - Double Indemnity
Note to self: "must not let Walter close
enough to run his fingers through my fake hair."
The one and only false note in an otherwise perfect film.

Judy Garland  - Meet Me in St. Louis
"How can I ignore this thing on my head?"
When Judy flicks her hair over her shoulder in "The Trolley Song" she almost breaks her wrist.

Barbara acts her way right through that wig and almost makes us forget how fake it looks. She makes us believe that it smells like the soap she bought in Ensenada, not 20 Mule Team Borax.

Best Performance by an actress with an unworthy co-star
Vivien Leigh with Leslie Howard in Gone With The Wind
"Oh Ashley, I think I need glasses. I prefer you to Clark Gable?"
Vivien Leigh is a storm of passion and emotion in this film. Her scenes with Leslie Howard make her look like she is beating her head against a wooden plank screaming "give me something to work with here!"

Judy Garland  with Tom Drake in Meet Me in St. Louis
"Maybe we should have moved to New York.
I hear the boys next door are more animated there!"
That Judy could convey such sweet longing for this pile of rocks cements her status as a great actress.

Joan Fontaine with Laurence Olivier in Rebecca
"I think there is a leftover cold fish in your
hand, Maxim, from when you drowned Rebecca!"
Olivier never looked as though he liked her - much less loved her. This probably made Joan's performance even better. It was left to Mrs. Danvers to provide the passion.

The fact that millions continue to love this film despite the wooden-headed Mr. Wikes/ wooden-acting Mr. Howard is a testament to the genius of Vivien Leigh in this role.

Best performance by an actor with an unworthy co-star
James Cagney with Jean Harlow - The Public Enemy
"Don't look so sad, Jean. You'll grow up
 to be a good actress some day."
She looks right, but at this point in her career, she stunk. Apparently, Louise Brooks was considered for the part. If only...

James Cagney with Joan Leslie - Yankee Doodle Dandy
Come on, Warner Brothers, this man
deserves a stellar leading lady!
He's so "mature", she's so young. He's so extraordinary, she's so ordinary.

Laurence Olivier with Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights
"If she pops her eyes just once more, I'm going to
throw her off Peniston Crag!"
He's so great and powerful and she's so awful.

For both The Public Enemy and Yankee Doodle Dandy. If ever a great actor got saddled with a bunch of mediocre leading ladies, it was Cagney. He was dynamic and could be sexy, but, aside from Joan Blondell, Ann Sheridan, Doris Day and a few others, he was rarely paired with a worthy sparring partner.

Best performance by an actor with a bad mustache
James Cagney - Torrid Zone
Somebody call pest control - there is a caterpillar crawling on Jimmy's upper lip!

Humphrey Bogart - Virginia City

Bogey is smiling, but it must be because he is dreaming
of choking the head of make-up. Yuk!

Gene Kelly - The Three Musketeers

No, this does not make Mr. Kelly look French.

That Bogey could have smiled at all with that on his lip proves he was a great actor.

 The show is starting and I must awaken from my reverie. Good luck to all nominees - hey it's an honor just to be nominated, right?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Joan Crawford: I Will Prevail

Third 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!

Joan Crawford is one actress that it has taken me almost a lifetime to appreciate. My first brush with Joan came  in her later days, all eyebrows and scary visage. My  immediate reaction: I don't like her! In fact, she scares me! Films like "Berserk" and "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?" just reinforced my negative reaction.

My next contact with Joan was the unfortunate "Mommie Dearest" book and movie. Everything I had felt up to then was confirmed: I don't like Joan Crawford.

Yet, I knew she was a big star for a long time and something kept nagging at me: what was I missing? Why did the public embrace her for so long? Fortunately, the television gods blessed me with "Mildred Pierce" and I began to understand. She was interesting, beautiful and a much better actress than I thought. "Humoresque" ran right after "Mildred Pierce" and I was hooked. She wasn't just interesting, she was downright fascinating.
A shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament
Joan Crawford is the Yin to Bette Davis' Yang. While Bette's strength seemingly comes from herself, fully formed, Joan's strength appears to have been built, brick by brick, from life's adversities. This quality was one her 1930's audience, in the throes of the Great Depression, could relate to. They identified with her. This is an important element in the Star Handbook, and Joan memorized that book cover to cover. She appreciated her fans and they never deserted her.

Joan's fabulous career spanned the late 1920s to the 1960s and her loyal fans experienced her cinematic and real-life highs and lows (as well as some eyebrow adjustments) along with her.

Acting the Perfect Flapper
Joan's early 1920s films showcase an arresting beauty supporting male stars. However, as the decade progressed, this vital woman, brimming with personality, was becoming a force.  Her portrayal of a flapper in the 1928 "Our Dancing Daughters" sealed her fame, so much so that F. Scott Fitzgerald said of her:
Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see in smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living.
 By the end of the decade, aided by the advent of talking pictures, Joan Crawford was a star.
As Sadie Thompson in "Rain" - Better Than The Critics Said
The 1930s solidified her stardom at one of best places to be a star - MGM. She was beautiful and powerful in such films as "Rain," "Grand Hotel," "Possessed" and "Mannequin." She was the woman who fought for everything - security, redemption, love. Her fans were right there rooting for her. The decade was topped of with her delicious performance as Crystal Allen in "The Women," proving that she was adept at comedy, as well as drama.
Love Sick For John Garfield in "Humoresque"
1940s was Joan's worst and then best decade. This is my favorite Joan Crawford period. She was excellent in "Strange Cargo" and "A Woman's Face." Her well-known departure from MGM to Warner Brothers resulted in some of Joan's finest opportunities. After "Mildred Pierce," she was at the top of her game, a mature, powerful and stylish woman with a flair for the dramatic, but never unsympathetic.  She is tremendous in "Humoresque," "Possessed," and "Flamingo Road." She defined the phrase "a woman of the world."

"Flamingo Road" looking
very determined
1950s found Joan holding her own with a tenaciousness that bordered on scary (this is when the eyebrows started to take over her face). Nevertheless, there were many good films: "Sudden Fear," "Torch Song," "Johnny Guitar," and "Autumn Leaves," among others. Still in the game, she held on in 60s, sharing the screen with Bette Davis in "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?" and more films unworthy of her presence.

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis are frequently compared to one another, with Bette always being lauded as the better actress. It is interesting to see how these great stars dealt with aging. Both women are perceived as fighters, the implication being that mature women have to fight for acknowledgement. Bette, tough as only she could be, asserted herself, wrinkles and all, and demanded that she not be ignored. Joan fought in her own way, using the power of her stardom and the power of cosmetics, fashion and denial to forestall the inevitable.

If you are a reader of this blog, you know that I am in the midst of a fun little series called "The Norma Desmond Chronicles," a look at Norma's imagined life after parole. Norma, the definitive silent screen diva, as been befriended by Joan, a younger star who is also "big" and who also has a "face."

Joan Crawford was one of the last stars to embrace the 1920s silent screen definition of a movie star. As the wife of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, she got an up-close-and-personal look at her in-laws, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford, two of the silent screen's most iconic stars and the lord and lady of Pickfair. While the stars of the 1930s and beyond labored endlessly to prove they were just like you and I, Joan alone maintained the purist star image - that of a goddess.

For those of us who have had nothing handed to us for free, Joan Crawford is our hero. Fighting for everything takes its toll and makes a person tough and Joan was tough ("tough as old boots" one critic said), but she was also beautiful, sexy, funny and smart. She knew what she wanted and found a way to get it and tough if you didn't like it.

This was her image both on-screen and off, and her image and celebrity, more than that of any other star, blended with her real life. She loved us wonderful people out there in the dark and it showed. Ultimately, it's not just her acting or her films that qualify her as a Strong Woman, but also her perseverance and devotion to her stardom. Cheers, Ms.Crawford - you did it all for us, and we love you for it.
Every inch a  movie star

Friday, February 11, 2011

♥ Silent Sweethearts: Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance ♥

One of the reasons I love Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp above all others is that he is romantic. Yes, he is clever, acrobatic and hysterically funny, but there is a depth to his character that was introduced through the element of romance. Before Edna Purviance (his leading lady from 1915-1923), Charlie was a true ruffian with more than just a tiny mean streak. Once he found the beautiful and gentle Edna, the stirrings of romance filled out his character and gave it a new substance and pathos.

They are the perfect Valentine's Day couple.

Struck by Cupid's arrow and bound for life
Before Edna, Charlie lusted for women; after Edna he longed for them. Before Edna, he was crude; after Edna, he was a gentleman. See what the love of a good woman can do for a Little Tramp?

Once Charlie found Edna, he understood how to be a good Valentine:

Take your date out for a nice, romantic dinner
A walk in the rain can be romantic when you're in love
A fancy party will win her heart
Show her that you were paying attention 
during "Dancing With The Stars"
Serenade her with a love song
Take her on a boat ride and bring 
Mom along for extra brownie points
Fight for her honor
Help around the house
Never lose the ability to be distracted by her ankle
Give her a puppy

Rub noses like you mean it!

Charlie and Edna were Valentines in real life, too, for a time. Their love affair did not stand the test of time, but the films that they made together are timeless. Just like true romance.

♥♥♥ Happy Valentine's Day! ♥♥♥

Hoping your day is filled with the love of romance, family, good friends and most of all - good movies!

Click here for a complete listing of Edna's films.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Norma Desmond: What Next? Chapter 2 in The Norma Desmond Chronicles

Norma got off on a temporary insanity plea, did a short stint in a spa-like psych center and is now free in Hollywood. The New Year's Eve party was a success, but now Norma was faced with with the $64,000 question: What does she do with the rest of her life?

Hollywood had welcomed her back with open arms, but, as of yet, there had been no offers to star in a film. Paramount had not called (but Norma was gratified to learn that Gordon Coles had been fired).

Max, of course, was still by her side (hoping, hoping). He decided a new chimp would cheer Madame up.
This one had a bad habit that might be a
 problem and was returned to the shop
This one proved fickle and was also returned
Max convinced Madame that a puppy would be a more suitable pet.
Norma and her new puppy, Little Joey G.
Of course, Norma was wealthy, far wealthier than all of this new Hollywood trash (oil fields pumping, pumping). Nevertheless, she needed to keep busy (she learned that in therapy). The mansion was paid for, but might need a little updating. She decided to confer with her new best friend, Joan Crawford.

Joan had always been a student of the Norma Desmond school of stardom. Joan, too, was big, and she had one of those "faces." When Norma looked at Joan, she saw a younger version of herself. When Joan looked at Norma, she saw a cautionary tale: Don't let the public forget you for one minute! Joan was a compassionate friend and wanted to help Norma transition back into the Hollywood spotlight. She asked Norma what she would like to do next.

Norma thought that she might excel at interior design.Who wouldn't love a house filled with Norma Desmonds, Norma Desmonds and still more Norma Desmonds?  Joan's other good friend, William Haines, a former big star in the 20s and early 30s, was now a very successful decorator with the Hollywood set. Joan asked him to survey Norma's home and render an opinion.
Mr. Haines took a look at Norma's decor
Mr. Haines surveyed the tile floor (where Valentino tangoed), the rat-infested swimming pool (where ghosts of John Gilbert, and Mabel Normand and Vilma Banky and Rod La Rocque swam), the endless array of Norma's photos in ornate frames and the gondola-style bed in a the frill-bedecked bedroom and discretely told Joan that he did not think that this was Norma's forte. Perhaps she should stick to performing?
Norma Desmonds, Norma Desmonds and still more Norma Desmonds
Joan would not give up. She was a loyal friend and wanted Norma to get off on the right foot.
Joan ponders Norma's future
She suggested product endorsement and noted that one of the waxworks, Buster Keaton, was having great success in this field. "What product would Norma Desmond endorse?" she asked Norma.

"I love Abdullah Cigarettes," said Norma. "In fact, Joe kept me waiting forever one night when he went into Schwab's to buy me a pack. That night was the beginning of the end..."

"Don't go there!" cautioned Joan. Max was standing by,his white-gloved hand on the phone, ready to call the doctor. But Norma shook off the past. At last she was ready to move forward.

Joan had a bright idea, but Norma had to lose that looney cigarette holder.
 Would she? Norma agreed.

And so it was that Norma Demond became the face of Abdullah Cigarettes and the public became reacquainted with the star with a face.

Norma Desmond says:
 I smoke Abdullahs because Big Stars need Big Taste!

Coming Soon:

Norma Discovers Television
Max Makes His Move
Paramount Calls!
And More...
Don't desert her now! Check back and follow Norma's progress!