Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Norma Desmond Chronicles: Norma's Halloween Seance

Hollywood's Busiest Medium: Madame Crackpotski

Chapter 5 of 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. She's back and better than ever!

The last time we saw Norma, she was just beginning to get her life back together. She and Max were starring in the successful sitcom, "Max and Madame," the Hollywood community had embraced her, her fans had returned and Max (whose carpal tunnel syndrome had healed since he no longer had to write bogus fan letters) was getting closer to making his big romantic move. All of Norma's stars were aligned when word reached her that Joe Gillis was making appearances at seances all over town and was trashing her.

The old Norma would have been thrown by this and might have either reached for the gun or the razor, but the old Norma was dead. The new Norma decided to fight fire with fire and face her demons head on.

"Max! We will have a Halloween seance right here at Sunset Boulevard and invite Joe to tell his story to my face!"
Norma envisions a Hollywood-style seance.....
While Max did not relish the thought of Joe Gillis returning to the house - dead or alive - he acquiesced. After all, once Norma got a notion in her head there was no stopping her. He hired Hollywood's most expensive psychic medium, Madame Crackpotski, to conduct communication with the other side.

Norma assembled an "A" list guest list for her seance:
Mr. Sheldrake
Nervous that Joe Gillis would find out that "Bases Loaded" was
being made as a Betty Hutton
Naturally, the Waxworks
Buster wouldn't have "passed" up this opportunity!
HB Warner made sure he brought his own ashtray - just in case
Anna Q. Nilsson was curious. She never liked Joe.

Joan Crawford
Norma's BFF
Cary Grant
Well, Norma wasn't dead
Orson Wells
Orson knew his way around a magic act
Bogey and Bacall
Hollywood's most popular couple. Norma could use their support.
Billy Wilder
Billy had invited himself. He was VERY interested in this story.

Garbo was invited, but declined.
"Miss Garbo respectfully and regretfully declines your invitation."

Valentino was invited from the other side.
Not too concerned about Joe Gillis, but curious to see if the tiles were still tango-worthy
And - the most important guests of all: Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.
Norma was counting on these two blabber-mouths to set the record straight.
Word of Norma's seance spread all over town, and crowds of the curious, well-wishers and friends of Joe Gillis eagerly awaited the results.

As the guests settled in and held hands around the table, Madame Crackpotski made contact with the departed Joe. Here is an exclusive transcript of what transpired:

Madame Crackpotski (Aka MC): Joe Gillis. Come in Joe Gillis...
(the table levitates and an icy wind blows through the room as the organ wheezes).
Joe (through MC): it's me folks! I'm here.
Norma: Joe, Joe - why are you lying, saying that I killed you over Betty Schaeffer? Tell the truth Joe, tell the truth!
Joe: Sorry, Norma, but Sheldrake needs a good story, not the truth. I wanted to sell him the Bases Loaded story, but he just wouldn't budge. I was desperate!
Sheldrake: It was all Betty Schaeffer's fault! She said your stories were no good!
Norma: Joe, you didn't leave without the platinum cigarette case and the vicuna coat. You took them all, and my diamond tiara, and, on the way out, you threatened me with a gun. You lied and you stole from me and I shot you in self defense!
Joe: Sorry, Norma, I didn't want to look as though I was in it for the money. And besides, Betty wanted the tiara. She wanted the monkey, too, for some reason, but I didn't feel like digging him up. Norma, I guess I had it coming. 
Norma: Thank you, Joe.
Joe: Say hello to Max.....and thank him for all of the cocktails. Well, folks, goodbye. I've got a sweet deal of a story lined up. This town hasn't heard the last of Joe Gillis.I'm going to sell a story to Paramount even if it kills me. Oops - it already did!
Another cold wind blew through the room and Madame Crackpostki fell into a heap on the floor. Joe was gone and Norma was vindicated (sort of). Everyone congratulated Norma, who was positively glowing. Louella and Hedda promised to tell her story to the world and to CB De Mille.
CB will surely call now!
Max was happy for Norma, but he noticed that Billy Wilder had left early. Just what was he up to?
Keeping a watchful eye over Norma
To be continued...
Stay tuned for the final entry of "The Norma Desmond Chronicles."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Movie Masquerades: Stars Playing Stars

Playing dress up is fun, and it is one of the things I liked best about Halloween as a kid. Being scared? Not so much. Begging for candy? I never seemed to get the treats I liked. But dressing up as a princess, beatnik or witch? I was totally in for that and still am a sucker for the old-fashioned costume or masquerade party.

Portraying another real-life performer (either literally or a thinly-veiled version) in a movie is a kind of masquerade. Many have tried it, some are successful. Here are a few who I think managed to do a fine job. I also threw in a few stinkers (just for fun). 

Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn: The Aviator
Cate was perfection. Her performance in "The Aviator" was about as close to Kate without being the real thing. Not only did she look right and sound right, but she moved like Hepburn and played her, not as a caricature (which would have been easy), but as a real woman. Our current "Great Cate" nabbed an Oscar for playing the legendary "Great Kate" and holds the distinction of being the only actress to win an Oscar for portraying an Oscar-winning actress.
Rating: A+

Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin: Chaplin
Brilliant. My favorite current actor playing one of my favorite classic stars. Downey is impeccable - he is Charlie. Downey did much more than an imitation. Besides nailing Charlie's look, moves, facial expressions and entire being, Downey's Chaplin was full-blown human being.
Rating: A+

Fredric March as John Barrymore: The Royal Family of Broadway
Fredric March is so good in the part of Tony Cavendish, a character based on the flamboyant John Barrymore, that it's hard to think of him as not being cut from the Barrymore cloth. But March is a good actor who relishes the character and parodies the Great Profile's exploits with affection. A fun romp and a loving tribute.
Rating: A

Kim Stanley as Marilyn Monroe: The Goddess
Playing a Marilyn Monroe-type actress named Rita Shawn, Kim Stanley gives a fine performance in a cautionary tale of stardom, sex and emotional ruin. The film is good, not great, but I confess it doesn't work for me because, frankly, Kim Stanley, fine actress that she was, is just not pretty or sexy enough to be believable as a sexy blonde bombshell. If it wasn't a blatant tale of a star like Marilyn, maybe I wouldn't be thinking of her throughout the film.
Rating (as a Marilyn portrayal): B+

Jayne Mansfield as Marilyn Monroe: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
As sexy Rita Marlowe, Jayne hits a total home run. We see her, we hear her, but we are always thinking of Marilyn. Everything she does in this film, from the squeals to the walk to the movie queen lifestyle, is an exaggeration of Monroe, but it is done with affection and good humor. This is Jayne's finest movie hour. She adds sparkle and fizz to a very funny film. Funny how 2 Marilyn knock-offs were named Rita.
Rating: A

Anthony Dexter and Rudolph Nureyev as Rudolph Valentino: Valentino (1951 & 1971)
Yuck, yuck, and yuck. Dexter looks the part, but that's about it. Rudy N as Rudy V? Yuck. 'Nuff said.
Rating: Dexter's Rudy: D, Rudy N's Rudy: F

Carroll Baker and Carol Lynley as Jean Harlow: Harlow (1965)
2 films, a double murder. Such trash, my fingers can barely type about this. I suppose Carroll Baker bears more of a resemblance and Angela Lansbury did make a creditable Mama Jean, but I'm reaching here. Junk.
Rating: Carroll Baker version: F
Rating: Carol Lynley version: Z

Donald O'Connor as Buster Keaton: The Buster Keaton Story
While Donald O'Connor is not bad, he's not Buster. Added to this is the stinker script that was a total fantasy (which Buster approved for the money). We can  only hope that Buster's story will some day get the same respectful treatment as Chaplin. Johnny Depp did some very good Keaton routines in "Benny and Joon," but it's hard to imagine him as Buster.
Rating: B-

Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin: Beyond the Sea
I liked Spacey immensely as Bobby. The fact that I have mad crushes on both men helps, I'm sure. It took Kevin a long time to get this film made, and consequently, he is just a tad too old for the role. But, he looks the part, acts the part and sings the part. This film was a labor of love for Spacey, who is a great admirer of the singer. And I'm so grateful for anyone that shines the spotlight on the great Bobby Darin.
Rating: A-

In case you were wondering, here's my Halloween costume:
Trick or Treat!

Monday, October 17, 2011

I'd be evah so charmed....

Why, I'd be evah so charmed if y'all would check out mah new little sister blog, My Movie Dream Book.

In my dreams, things turn out way they are supposed to (at least I think so!).
I'm currently dreaming of:
Click HERE and see that nasty Charles Boyer get his...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bewitched: Women Who Cast a Spell: Vivien Leigh, Gene Tierney and Louise Brooks

Halloween is coming soon, but I am not a real fan of the scary. I am, however, a fan of the witch.

As we all know, there are good movie witches and bad movie witches (Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West taught us that), but by far the most fun movie witches are the sleek and seductive ones. They don't just cast a spell, they bewitch. Kim Novak, Nicole Kidman and Veronica Lake have all played witches who use their considerable powers on their real and reel audience. But there are other witches among us, those stars who, although never playing witches, seem to cast a spell whenever they appear. The feminine powers of each of these lovely enchantresses are of the highest order.

Vivien Leigh
Like a sorceress out of King Arthur's court, she looks as though she knows her way around a magic wand and crystal ball. She may have been the perfect "English Rose," but there was always a touch of the other-worldly about Vivien. Of course, the feminine wiles of her Scarlett O'Hara are legendary. In retrospect, no one could have brought such mystical allure to the role. Even when she is a proper (and no-so-proper) English lass, such as in "Waterloo Bridge" or "A Yank at Oxford," a barely concealed passion for more than the ordinary bubbles ever-so-close to the surface. 
Look into my eyes and pay the taxes on Tara!
Her later films, such as "A Streetcar Named Desire," "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone," and "Ship of Fools," displayed a tattered magic, but magic, nonetheless. There is no doubt in my mind that Vivien, if she were so inclined, could cast a spell any time, any place.

Gene Tierney
Described as "lynx-like," there is something utterly feline and primal about this woman. Dress her up in the best 40s fashions and she is sublime, but in furs she look positively at home.
Just look at him trying to figure out when the exact moment
he surrendered control occurred. Shall I tell him it was before we met? 
No matter what the role, it is impossible to get over her face. Sure, she is a Mad Men gal in "Laura," but do we really think that Waldo and McPherson are on the hunt for Miss Hunt because of her talent? And doesn't Mrs. Muir look like a cat who has enjoyed her cream? Sexy Rexy may think he's in charge, but I think Lucy Muir is the one who is casting the spell on the old sea dog. 
You will do my bidding, you will do my bidding, you will do my bidding.
Even as the obsessive Ellen in "Leave Her to Heaven," we forgive her because, well, she was special, wasn't she?

Louise Brooks
Do you really think she was unconsciously spellbinding? I think not. This is serious witchcraft at work here. The enchanting Louise has long been the subject of those who have fallen under her spell. But she is a tricky witch, as she pretends to know not the effect she has on mere mortals. She once described herself as a rich man's pet ocelot, an exotic pet to be paraded before envious onlookers. I think she was the one who held the leash.
Felines rarely look you in the eye...
unless they want to cast a spell on you.

Though her magic was potent, she wasn't much interested in cinema enchantment. Her book of spells is short, with her trio of European films ("Pandora's Box," "Diary of a Lost Girl," and "Prix de Beaute") her crowning glory. But if the magic is powerful enough, it leaps off a static photograph and continues to cast a spell. 

As we enter this autumnal season of enchantment, feel free to fall under the spell of a sleek and seductive movie witch. They may be sometimes troublesome, but they are oh so worth it, don't you think?

Catch "Dreaming of City Lights" and "Dreaming of Gaslight" over at My Movie Dream Book

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dreaming of...Rear Window

Dreaming of "Rear Window" at my new blog, My Movie Dream Book.

See you in my dreams!
Lisa Carol Fremont

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Carole Lombard - Twentieth Century - What Goes Good With Ham?

This is my contribution to the Carole-tennial (Plus 3) blogathon, sponsored by Carole and Company from October 6-9. Click here to view the 4-day day all-about-Carole roll call!
Ham and Applesauce - great together!
"Since most hams are a bit salty even after soaking /scrubbing / roasting, I'd go with a couple of slightly sweet (naturally that is) dishes and at least one tart and one somewhere in the middle."  - Googled reply to the question "What goes good with ham?"
Sharing the screen with the world's biggest soaked, scrubbed and roasted ham (otherwise known as John Barrymore) is no easy feat, especially when the salty old ham rallied to the top of his main course form. But side dishes can be a great compliment to the main course, as in the case of naturally slightly sweet and tart Carole Lombard in 1934's "Twentieth Century."

Since most hams are hogs, the great JB does tend to overpower the proceedings. But little Carole, in her first great comedic role after years of thankless glamour-puss and boring leading-lady roles, takes a page from the master, asserts herself right into the center of things and gives the old boy a real run for his money. And like the old thoroughbred he is, he ups his game to the finish line.

The Story

The film, written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and directed by Howard Hawks, tells the story of Broadway producer/director/impresario Oscar "OJ" Jaffe, a Belasco-like egomaniac of epic proportions. As a sly reference to Barrymore's earlier hit, "Svengali," Oscar takes a no-talent little model named Mildred Plotka (Carole) and, through sheer will and ego, proves that he can transform a Plotka into a Lily Garland, great star of the stage. Turns out, she is a willing subject. Their association starts off well, with OJ and Lily making hit after hit, as well as love. However, as her fame and ego grows, Lily tires of OJ's possessive and domineering ways. She breaks free from him and becomes a great movie star. Meanwhile, OJ flounders without her and hits the skids. What is a megalomaniac to do?

Luckily for Oscar and the audience, he and Lily end up on the same train, the Twentieth Century Limited traveling from Chicago to New York. OJ sees this as his last chance to get into Lily's good graces and use her fame for another hit show. Mayhem and madness and mirth ensue, Oscar gets his way (through outrageous duplicity) and Lily is once again on Broadway, appearing in an Oscar Jaffe production.

Making Love and Making War
I love the chemistry between Lombard and Barrymore in this film. They make love and war with equal passion. They are both flamboyant, dramatic divas who blur the lines between heat and hate. Carole's Lily squeals, kicks, bites, claws, and coos, while JB's OJ declares his love and peddles his lies and double-dealing shenanigans with an equally grandiose sweep of the hand and piercing gaze. She's a sentimental and self-absorbed mess and he is as slippery and slimy as a gallon of snake oil. Boy, are they fun!

Favorite Scenes

Barrymore and Carole's scene where he describes how he will star her in a Broadway version of the Passion Play is hysterical. "Sand from the holy land!" She almost buys it, but not quite.

Carole telling her dull-as-dishwater boyfriend George Smith (Ralph Forbes) that she is too good for him:

George Smith: And you wanted my respect!
Lily Garland: Who cares about respect? I'm too big to be respected! The men I've known have understood that.
George Smith: Men you've known? Jaffe, you mean.
Lily Garland: Yes, Jaffe. He'll tell you what I am: a first-class passenger entitled to privileges! 
George Smith: oh, and artist!
Lily Garland: You're darn tootin' I am!

She pulls out all of the stops, but he has already left the room. All that drama and no audience!

My favorite scene is the one where Oscar pretends to be dying and connives Lily into signing a contract. He is over the top nutty, adorable, flamboyant and hysterical. It's really his scene, but Carole matches him in her overblown histrionics and utter outrage when she finds out he'll live.

Comments from Her Director and Co-Star
Howard Hawks, Carole and JB
Howard Hawks: "Marvelous girl. Crazy as a bedbug."
John Barrymore: "She is perhaps the greatest actress I ever worked with." Imagine JOHN BARRYMORE saying that!
I think Carole Lombard appreciated both sentiments!

Afterward: One Door Closing, Another Opening
While Barrymore was in the throes of his long decline, he still had a few more aces up his sleeve and this film brought out his best. Carole, on the other hand, stood on the threshold of a great career. This film proved her talent and that she was the genuine article - a star.

The Details
Twentieth Century (1934) - Columbia Pictures
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Howard Hawks
Writers: Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht (Uncredited: Gene Fowler, Preston Sturges); based on an unproduced play ("Napoleon of Broadway") written by Charles Bruce Millholland
Starring: John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Ralph Forbes, Charles Lane, Edgar Kennedy

The supporting cast is superlative. They lend perfect comedic support and make the 2 stars shine even brighter. There is a lot of yelling in this film, which sometimes makes me edgy, but it is all done in such high spirits and fun that I am truly sorry when that train finally pulls into the station.