Thursday, May 30, 2019

Me & Classic Film: Is This the End Of The Affair?

Warning: this conversation is personal

Me: It’s Me, Not You
I never thought we’d be having this conversation. Truly, I took for granted this could never end. You were everything to me. In this world of uncertainty, you were always there, a safe place. In a swirl of change, you remained unchanged. You and me – we had something special that no one person could pollute or corrupt.

Sigh, I guess we should go back to the beginning.

It was these ancient images and personalities, so powerful, which transported me to another world. It was a world of escape. So, yes, maybe at a tender age I needed a place that offered escape, comfort, familiarity, and acceptance. All of personal inner struggles melted when I became enveloped in your arms. You offered release of tears, of joy; you made my heart soar and you soothed the sores of a self a little too sensitive, a little too attuned to life’s slings and arrows, of the self’s fragility and self-doubt and the dreaded low self-esteem.

And suddenly, seemingly just like that, but really many decades later, I don’t need you for those things.

Classic Film: I get that you’ve changed, but may I present my argument?

Me: Of course, I owe you that.

Classic Film: While you may not need me for certain things anymore, there is much more that I can offer – things that have always been there, but you have not sought out.

Me: Tell me more.

Classic Film: Since your heart and psyche seems to be in good shape these days, I would suggest you concentrate on your head.

Me: How so?

Classic Film: I know you love a suspenseful story, yet you rarely venture into Film Noir. You should give it a try. And your exposure to foreign film classics is pretty thin, my dear. Why not watch a few? You might like them. And I know you love to observe fashion and costumes. Why not pay more attention to this? Bottom line: try something new with an open heart and open mind and give me a chance. I’ve been so faithful.

Me: Sigh… you’re making me fall in love with you all over again.You know me so well.

Classic Film: Remember… I’m always here when you need me.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

It's National Classic Movie Day!

May 16th is National Classic Movie Day! And, as is tradition, Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting a blogathon. Wander on over HERE to read about everyone's 5 favorite films of the 50s.

Okay, so since my real most favorite films of the 50s (Sunset Boulevard, Singin' in the Rain to name 2) are probably on lots of people's lists and since I've written about them way too much, I decided to go with 5 films that are favorites, but not most favorite. The sub-genre of favorite-but-not-most favorite is a worthy one, too. No?

Love Me or Leave Me (1955)
My love for this film takes on some extra poignancy due to the recent passing of one of my favorite stars, Doris Day. For my money, Doris was one of the most underrated of Hollywood stars. She could so it all in a way that looked natural and effortless - Judy without the neurosis.

Come on, Doris, he's not that bad......

Doris, as singer Ruth Etting, proves her acting ability in more than just sunny fluff. Of course, having a powerhouse performance by James Cagney as her gangster/obsessive lover probably helped elevate her performance. Cagney is amazing and kind of heart-breaking here. His love for Ruth is hopeless, no matter how hard he tries to strong-arm her into it, and Doris, as Ruth, is a gal who uses Marty's influence to get ahead and maybe, just maybe, has a bit of a yen for him (even though it disgusts her).  There is real and unexpected chemistry between Day and Cagney. Their relationship is, as they say, complicated, especially when true love Cameron Mitchell comes on the scene. Of course it ends happily for all (even Marty gets an ounce of satisfaction after a stint in the pokey after shooting Mitchell) because it was, after all, the 1950s.

The Court Jester (1955)

What can I say?

Hawkins: I’ve got it! I’ve got it! The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true! Right?
Griselda: Right, but there’s been a change. They broke the chalice from the palace.
Hawkins: They broke the chalice from the palace?!
Griselda: And replaced it with a flagon.
Hawkins: A flagon?
Griselda: With the figure of a dragon.
Hawkins: Flagon with a dragon.
Griselda: Right.
Hawkins: But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?
Griselda: No! The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!
Hawkins: The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.
Griselda: Just remember that.

It's better when you watch it:

It is hilarious, clever and Danny Kaye's talents are on full display. He has always been one of my favorites, but his movie roles did not always do justice to his special brand of zaniness that always had a touch of sweetness to it. A good man in a great role. And with Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury and the sly Mildred Natwick along for ride, what could be more delightful? It's a gem. It will uplift you on a dreary day.

Gigi (1958)

"a rock from some obnoxious little king is love..."
Gigi does not understand the Parisians
For me, this musical is perfection. Beautiful to look at and listen to, this romantic depiction fin de siecle Paris hits all of the right notes for me. Leslie Caron is a perfectly petulant French lass on the brink of womanhood, Louis Jordan is a perfectly petulant playboy, Gaston, on the brink of love and, best of all, Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold are golden as 2 Parisians who have fond memories of youth and love. 

Gigi celebrates Paris and love in all of its ages.

People Will Talk (1951)

Dr. Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant): "I consider faith properly injected into a patient as effective in maintaining life as adrenaline, and a belief in miracles has been the difference between living and dying as often as any surgeon's scalpel."

Ah, I do like this film. Billed as a comedy (not suitable for children), it is a rather serious film about a young woman who is pregnant with unmistakable echoes of the 1940s and 1950s anti-communist witch hunts. Our hero, Dr. Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant) is a compassionate and holistic doctor and teacher. His methods of treatment (body, mind and spirit) are viewed with suspicion by the more conventional and small-minded healers in his community who accuse him of quackery. He meets a young lady at one of his lectures (Jeanne Crain) who harbors a secret - she is pregnant and without a husband. He marries her, she thinks out of pity, but it is because he genuinely loves her. He's just such a great guy. Check out his bedside manner:

Meanwhile, the doctor is also a fierce defender of his friend, Mr. Shunderson, a convicted murderer who was, literally, given a second chance at life by Dr. Praetorius. As the black hearted lynch mob tries to add this to all of his other accused crimes, Dr. P refuses to name names to save himself if it means hurting his friend. Grant plays this all with a very light touch, but this is pretty meaningful stuff. The doctor's generous and humane spirit triumphs, just as we always hope all such things conclude.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

Jayne out-Monroes Monroe as Rita Marlowe

Jayne Mansfield might have gotten top billing, but Tony Randall as the hapless Rock Hunter (otherwise known as "Lover Doll") steals the show, again proving my contention that Tony Randall makes everything better just by his presence. Take a sneak peek at the trailer:

A funny satire on television and pop culture, Randall and Mansfield, as the Stay-Put lipstick girl, shine and are supported by the always welcome Joan Blondell, Betsy Drake as Rock's true love, and a fun cameo by Groucho Marx.This movie makes me happy in so many ways, but mainly because Tony Randall, for once, gets the girl.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Joan Crawford: A Face and a Whole Lot More in "Our Dancing Daughters"

This is my entry in the Joan Crawford: Queen of the Silver Screen Blogathon, hosted by Pale Writer and Poppity Talks Classic Films. Click HERE for more Joan.

"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." F. Scott Fitzgerald

1928's "Our Dancing Daughters" is generally accepted to be the film that made Joan Crawford a star. Since 1925 Joan had been toiling away at MGM first appearing as Norma Shearer's double in "Lady of the Night," and quickly working her way into supporting roles with important stars by the end of the same year. As Norma Desmond rightly proclaimed, silent stars had "faces," memorable canvases of expression that provoked emotion in the audience. With her large, expressive eyes and classically contoured face and profile, Joan clearly had a "face." But soon, film stars would need more than a face.

An unforgettable face

"Our Dancing Daughters" is the story of 3 flapper girls friends, all part of the "smart set." They go to parties, laugh a lot and flirt with boys.

Dorothy Sebastian, Anita Page and Joan Crawford
Diana Medford (Joan Crawford) is known as "Dangerous Diana," and is the leader of the pack. She is a good-time girl on the outside, appearing to be free and easy, but her frivolous persona masks a virtuous heart. Female virtue is really important in this film.

Beatrice (Dorothy Sebastian) is the fallen friend who must always, always pay for her transgression.

Ann (Anita Page) is the outwardly sweet and virtuous girl who is anything but. Schooled by a materialistic mother that money and prestige are all that matter, Ann is on the hunt for a wealthy husband.

Naturally, Diana and Ann fall for the same man (Johnny Mack Brown as Ben). Although he really loves Diana, he is fooled by her outward devil-may-care attitude and Ann's sweet and seemingly innocent demeanor. He picks the girl he thinks to be most virtuous. Beatrice, meanwhile, marries Norman (Nils Asther), the man who loves her but can't seem to get past the fact that he was not "the first." By the way, Nils Asther had one of the best sneers in the movies.

Norman loves Bea, but he can't stop giving her a
hard time over a past romance.
Ann and Ben's marriage breaks Diana's heart and she decides to go away for a while. Meanwhile, Ann scorns her husband and is unfaithful. Ben, having enough of her lies, decides to go to Diana's farewell party. There, he and Diana reaffirm their love for one another and are confronted by a drunken Ann, who doesn't want her husband but wants the luxurious life he gives her. After a drunken outburst, she takes a fatal head first tumble down a flight of stairs and paves the way for Diana and Ben to finally get together.

Joan Crawford's star-making role revealed a fresh, youthful and compelling performer. Her face beautifully expresses every deeply felt emotion and, truly, you can't take your eyes off of her. I'm reminded of a quote by Louise Brooks who said Joan danced like a lady wrestler. She does put a lot of muscle in her dancing, but it's her acting and her presence that captivate.

A word about Anita Page

A drunken Ann puts on quite a show
As fabulous as Joan is in "Our Dancing Daughters," the film is almost stolen by the tremendous performance by Anita Page as Ann, the girl with cracked ice in her veins who was sinfully abused by her materialistic mother. Of the 3 leading ladies, her's was the sweetest face that masked the blackest heart and she played her part brilliantly. After a great start to her film career (she also starred in "Broadway Melody"), it slowed to a halt in the 1930s. 

By 1928, the film flapper had been firmly established. She was young, fun loving and carefree. After the sadness of World War I, gaiety, even forced gaiety, ruled the day.

Famous Film Flappers: Louise Brooks, Clara Bow,
Coleen Moore and Constance Talmadge
Louise Brooks, with her famous bob and insolent look, was a perfect embodiment of the abandon, desperation and decadence of the 1920s. 

Clara Bow, the most famous flapper of all and ever-famous as the "It" Girl was always fun-loving and always strong, but soft, and always had a hint of sadness about her.

Coleen Moore, one of the first film flappers, was also a fledgling flapper. She was tasting the joy of freedom, but only dipped one toe in the pool.

Constance Talmadge was, as Fitzgerald called her, "a flapper de luxe." She was fun and sophisticated and just slightly out of reach.

None of these actresses were able to carry their success of the 1920s into the 1930s.

And then there was Joan.

Joan Crawford was the one film flapper who was able to transition from the carefree woman to the free woman of cares. She successfully crossed the bridge between girlish flappers and full-fledged women of strength and freedom. She was oh-so-like the others, yet oh-so-different.

As we know, Joan got lots of fan mail and she took her fans seriously. Somehow, I suspect much of that mail came from female fans. She was the woman every modern girl wanted to be: strong, self-possessed and independent, but willing to surrender to romantic love. She was smart and competent and  yet, somehow always had to pay a price for that. Hmmm.. I have a feeling Joan would still be fighting that same battle today. Oh, and may I add that throughout her storied career spanning many different looks and styles, Miss Joan Crawford was always extremely well groomed and well dressed. She knew the importance of the full package and we, her fans, are grateful for her devotion.