Friday, July 8, 2022

The Lina Lamont Fan Club: Still She Persisted!

                        Greetings from the Lina Lamont Fan Club!

This is my entry in The Classic Movie Muse's Singin' in the Rain Blogathon. Click here for more of that glorious feeling.

Yes, loyal fans, we are still here. No matter how hard her enemies try to destroy her legacy, Lina Lamont's fans will not rest until the truth is known and Lina is awarded her proper place in the history of film.

He could too talk!
Just as John Gilbert's legacy was harmed by those who sought to destroy him, Lina's reputation has suffered. For those not familiar with Mr. Gilbert, he was a huge star whose career was destroyed when his enemies made his perfectly adequate voice seem inadequate when talkies changed movies forever. Once the great lover of Greta Garbo, Gilbert made powerful enemies and - poof! -  bad sound, bad scripts, good-bye. Garbo, on the other hand, had scripts tailor-made to her vocal abilities and the best directors, sets, co-stars and costumes. Funny how that happened.

Lina's story is not unlike that of John Gilbert. From 1923 - 1929, Lina Lamont was Monumental Pictures biggest and brightest star. Women copied her and men longer for her. She especially excelled in historical romances and, once paired with Don Lockwood, was one half of a screen duo that rivaled the aforementioned Garbo and Gilbert. During the height of her popularity, Lina received more fan mail than Swanson and graced the covers of more magazines than Bow and Brooks - put together!
Garbo and Gilbert could not compare to Lockwood and Lamont
Naturally, Lina was Monumental's highest paid star. When talking pictures took over, the "masterminds" (as Norma Desmond called them) saw a way to force Lina to take a giant cut in pay. They did virtually nothing to prepare her for talking pictures, giving her only a few lessons with a half-baked vocal coach. MGM not only gave Garbo time to get up to sound speed, but also waited until they found just the right screenplay for her talkie debut ("Anna Christie"). Poor Lina was forced to transition at the snap of a finger from the silent "The Dueling Cavalier" to "The Dancing Cavalier," which showcased the much lower-paid Lockwood's strengths and set the stage for Kathy Selden, the chippie who was sleeping with the star, to claw her way to the top on Lina's back.
Lina had a perfectly lovely speaking voice that
 was manipulated by Monumental Pictures
Lina was also falsely accused of being a "dumb blonde." Lina was a high school graduate with straight "B"s. Her business savvy was legendary. In fact, Mary Pickford was known to admire Lina's negotiating tactics.  But besides being Monumental's highest paid and most glamorous star, Lina also had a keen, inventive mind. Not many people know this, but Lina Lamont was the real inventor of the internet. 
Lina loved to keep current with the likes of gossip columnist Dora Bailey
Others stole the credit, but those who know Lina's keen interest in electronics and gossip know that she was in the forefront of merging technology with up to the minute information. Even today, the 512 x 512 pixel standard test image is known as a "Lena." Coincidence? We think not.

Fans of fashion know Lina as one of the best dressed stars in Hollywood. Whether it be in a period romance, as in this sumptuous costume from "The Royal Rascal,"

or this chic and modern monkey-fur trimmed jacked, Lina knew how to accessorize and always looked better than any star in the room.
So, here's to you, Lina Lamont. Your fans still love you and will never rest until you have been recognized as the ultimate shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament.
Lina and whats-his-name
They have rediscovered Louise Brooks. Now it's time for a Lina Lamont revival!

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Joan Crawford: Channeling the Spirit of Norma Desmond

This is my entry in the MGM Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes. Click here for more great posts about the Hollywood Golden Age's most golden studio.


First, let me state unequivocally that I am 100% on Team Joan. There will be no hating, no snarkiness and certainly no wire hangers found here. Second, in my eyes, Norma Desmond was a woman who spoke the truth (but wrapped, I admit, in a slightly  - shall we say unusual - package). And yes, I know Norma worked at Paramount, but stay with me on this.

Joan before the MGM star transformation. Looking a bit like Bonnie Parker.
Clearly some work needed to be done.

The 1920s saw a hunger and desire for anyone to achieve the American Dream. Dusting off an uncomfortable past and inventing a new, shiny, more desirable one  seemed possible. Just ask Jay Gatsby.

When you're a starlet you have to pose for
all kinds of silly publicity pictures

Joan Crawford's story has a Gatsby-esque quality. Born Lucille LeSueur into a poor and broken Texas family, she  worked her way up from dancing in a traveling show, to Broadway chorus girl (using the name Billie Cassin) to MGM starlet with a determination that more than matched her beauty or talent. And it was at MGM that Lucille was given a chance to reinvent herself, obliterate her past and live the American Dream.

"Our Dancing Daughters" showcased Joan as the perfect flapper.

Something about the $75 a week starlet told the MGM publicity machine that Lucille had potential. Her look was being transformed (alleged massive dental work among other things) and she learned how to walk, talk and act through lessons in all manner of self-presentation. But that name! The studio didn't like it (sounded like sewer) and decided to let the public rename her. In a bold stunt, Movie Weekly magazine selected the name of Joan Crawford. From then on, the studio/public created person by the name of Joan Crawford moved front and center and Lucille LeSueur was buried in the past.

"Grand Hotel" proved she could hold her own with the best of them.

Slogging her way through silents and embodying the image of a flapper (F. Scott Fitzgerald called her "the best example of the flapper") and really coming into her own with sound, Joan Crawford became MGM's biggest money maker. It was said that it was Norma Shearer who got the big productions (she was, after all, as Crawford wryly noted, sleeping with the boss), Garbo who supplied the art, and Joan Crawford who made the money to pay for both. Like all great stars, it was the public who made her one. Her 1930s glamorous shop girl films sold like wild fire. And then suddenly they didn't. By 1938, she, along with Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo, was labeled "box office poison" by the Independent Theatre Owners Association of America. 

With frequent co-star and occasional
lover Clark Gable in "Strange Cargo."

But Joan was nothing if not resilient. Starting with 1939's "The Women" and followed by "Strange Cargo," she proved she was not quite out of the game. However, after 18 years, she and MGM, the place she professionally grew up in, parted company in 1943. Was she bitter? She says "no", although that feeling might have been realized in hindsight. Studio head Louis B. Mayer is not always considered to be a beloved figure, but according to Joan in a 1965 interview with John Kobal, "To me L.B. Mayer was my father: my father confessor; the best friend I ever had." While Joan went on to some victories (notably her Oscar for "Mildred Pierce" at Warner Brothers), she also suffered the indignities of an aging woman in a world that worships female youth.

We should listen to Norma

So here's the Norma Desmond connection. She might as well have been speaking of Joan when she said "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." Like Joan, she embraced the life and persona of a movie star and was always grateful for all of those wonderful people out there in the dark. But, as George Carlin said, "the reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it." The demons that clipped at the heels of Lucille LeSueur, no matter how fast she ran, never really went away. While the public's tastes and movies changed, Joan Crawford could not. Reality always rears its ugly head, even in Hollywood. Added to personal drama, Joan committed the unforgiveable sins of aging and remaining big while everything around her got small.

Joan in the Adrian designed "Letty Lynton"
dress that took American by storm

While many stars rebelled against the studio system, Joan Crawford embraced it. She never appeared in public unkempt and never less than every inch a star. She always, always gave us glamour and famously said "if you want to see the girl next door, go next door." She loved her public and her job. "I have nothing but gratitude for this fine, great industry that I love and worship. It has given me everything that I have in life."

This is what a movie star looks like

Joan Crawford Movie Star, your public really appreciates that.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Fun in the Sun: A Trip to Trouville

This is my entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fun in the Sun Blogathon. For more sun-kissed movie moments, click here and feel the warmth.

Isn't it great when everyone on a little trip has a good time? For all five participants,  the seaside jaunt to Trouville in "Gigi" proves to be a memorable and joyful experience. That's quite an accomplishment, because someone in "Gigi" - until the end - is always feeling a bit out of step or sorts with the others (Gaston with Liane, Madame Alvarez with her sister Alicia, Gigi with Alicia, Gigi with Gaston, Gigi with Parisian lovers in general and on and on. Only Honoré seems unperturbed, but even he is annoyed at Gaston's ennui).

Now, imagine the bracing sting of the sea air, the warmth of the sun on your face and the glow of love in all its seasons and enjoy this little trip to the charming town beloved by Flaubert, Proust, Monet and, oh yes, our 5 main characters.

1. Gigi

After winning a card game with Gaston (at which she flagrantly cheats), Gigi persuades him to take her and her grandmother, Madame Alvarez, to the seaside resort town of Trouville. She has never been to the sea shore before and her excitement leads to toasting the upcoming holiday with a glass of champagne. 

Once there she and Gaston swim, ride donkeys and play tennis. Unlike the other staid and elegant ladies at the resort, Gigi delight and excitement is authentic and infectious. Their obvious joy in one another's company is on full display.   

2. Gaston

For a man so bored with the shallow and jaded life of Belle Époque Paris, the weekend in Trouvillle with Gigi is just what the doctor ordered. Gigi's uninhibited display of happiness is an unfamiliar feeling for Gaston, but one he finds he can not live without. Love is blossoming, as sometimes happens when young people frolic in the sand and the surf.

3 & 4. Madame Alvarez and Honoré

Gigi's grandmother will pay for her scandalous decision to allow Gigi to be seen with Gaston at Trouville, but in the moment she is filled with joy at the sight of the two young lovers having some innocent fun by the sea. She also encounters an old love from the past and, with a wry and gentle spirit, takes a wistful walk down memory lane with someone who was obviously a great love. Time truly does heal all wounds. Seen in the sunset of life, only the fond feelings remain.

For Honoré, this weekend does not turn out quite as planned. The old hound dog pursues a young and obviously boring beauty, but is, as he says, sidetracked by an old wound. He and Madame Alvarez share a charming literal and musical sunset reminiscence of their love. Seen from afar, what once caused pain now brings pleasure. If memory is a virtue, forgetfulness can be a blessing.


And who is that 5th visitor at Trouville? Of course it is us, the audience. How lucky we are that we get to accompany these marvelous characters on their little adventure and to experience love in all its seasons under the hot sun of youth and the elegant and mature glow of a rapturous sunset.


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Four Favorite Noirs

May 16th is National Classic Movie Day. As has become tradition, Rick at Classic Film and TV Café is hosting his annual blogathon in honor of the day. This year's theme is "Four Favorite Noirs." Click here and dive deeply into more of those shady dames and tortured guys.

When I learned the topic of this year's National Classic Movie Day blogathon, my heart sank a little. There are so many film folks who are really knowledgeable about Film Noir and I am definitely not one of those people.  So if you are, please forgive my limited exposure to the genre. I'm not sure what qualities define a film noir (I always see people asking "is it noir?" so maybe nobody really knows). There seem to be characters who are cold and cruel, yet there are also those who mask a romantic heart with cynicism. Oh, and at least one nutty, improbable thing happens to drive the story forward. Like I said, I'm no expert, but I am game, so here goes:

Too Late for Tears

Finders keepers, right?

I like this film because it is a great justification for driving a convertible in California. Not only is the weather great, but a bag of money might just happen to be tossed into your back seat. Hey, you never know!

Ugh..he's still breathing

I have to figure that Lizabeth Scott is on perfect noir babe and that Dan Duryea fits the bill as the guy who is bad but who underestimates the badness of his female partner in crime. Remember what I just said about a nutty plot device? I mean, Liz and her husband, poor Arthur Kennedy, are taking a ride in their convertible with the top down and a satchel full of money just lands in their back seat. When does that ever happen? The sight of all that dough really brings out the materialistic, faithless minx in little Liz and before you know it, she's involved in murder, blackmail and double crossing. What's a girl (who it turns out was a baddie before we even met her) to do when cornered? 

Every girl needs an assistant

Why accidently fall off her balcony in a fancy Mexican hotel, paving the way for the good guys to find peace and happiness, that's what.

Just in case you were feeling a little sorry for her

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

A rule of film noir: never mess with a seriously messed up dame

Oh my, James Cagney's Ralph Cotter makes Cody Jarret look like an honorable guy (didn't he always give his gang their fair share?). Cagney can't help but appear sympathetic, but he has a hard time of it here, especially after swatting Barbara Payton with a wet towel (well, she did throw a knife at him first). 

This film in no way comes close to "White Heat," but it does have some goodies to make it interesting in a I-can't-stop-watching-this-but-need-to-shower-afterwards kind of way.

First of all, it features the notorious Barbara Payton as some broken doll named Holiday. Initially she seems a little too nice for Cagney. She goes along for the ride with him for quite some time because I guess she has a yen for somewhat charming psychopaths. But - and this may be a film noir rule - never cross a crazy dame. How do we know she's crazy? After Cagney beats her with the aforementioned wet towel, she falls into his arms sobbing "I'm so alone!"

Cotter knows he's got one crazy dame here

There is a neat and weird little subplot about a New Age spiritualist church (that practices the psychology of knowledge) and Cagney's desire to seduce an heiress (Helena Carter) associated with the church. 

Cotter has only one philosophy and it ain't this one

He marries the heiress and they spend their wedding night in separate beds. Ah, 1950.....

Movie wedding night 1950 style: not only
separate twin beds, but full PJs, too

As Holiday finally has her fill of Mr. Nasty (his cheating and the fact that he murdered her brother finally push her over the edge), Cagney gets to deliver one more awesome death scene. Nobody died like Cagney. 

A broken champagne bottle is no match for
Holiday and her heater. Bye bye Ralph.

Brighton Rock

Pinkie and Rose

The most hateful character by far in my four chosen films is Pinkie Brown, the small time hood with a heart of pure lead. We never learn anything about his background or what makes him tick. He is simply presented to us, a fully grown psychopath. Pinkie is masterfully realized by Richard Attenborough, but this film adaptation of a Graham Greene story (and play) is downright depressing and fascinating at the same time. Maybe this is another rule of noir?

Set in the English seaside town of Brighton in the 1930s, Pinkie runs a brutal crime gang in a town that is crawling with brutal crime gangs. The Brighton Borough Council was so disturbed by the film's depiction of their city that a disclaimer was added to the beginning of the film stating that the gangs as shown in the story no longer existed (which may or may not have been true). 

Pinkie and Rose spend their wedding day by the sea

Probably the most disturbing part of the story is Pinkie's callous seduction of the innocent Rose. Pinkie's murder victim (a journalist) had a habit of leaving calling cards around places he visited. One such card, which could lead to the discovery of Pinkie's guilt, is found by Rose. In order to stop her from going to the police, Pinkie courts her and marries her.

Pinkie makes his recording: Rose can't wait to hear it

And just in case you are lured into believing that Pinkie has feelings for Rose, he makes this recording for her on their wedding day:

"What you want me to say is I love you. Well, here is the truth. I hate you, you little slut. You make me sick."

Shivers. Naturally, Rose doesn't have a gramophone to play the recording. When she can not go through with Pinkie's suicide pact as the law closes in, Pinkie dies while being pursued by the police and she is left only with the recording. Greene's original story ended with her hearing the recording in its entirety and being crushed by the truth. However, the movie's ending was changed in such a way as to preserve Rose's faith and innocence; she plays the recording and it sticks on the words "I love you." Greene hated it.

The Late Show

This photo of Martha Vickers is on Ira's bureau. What was she
to him? We never learn. It's just a neat noir nod

Not sure if this film could be called a noir - maybe a neo-noir with a New Age twist? But Art Carney's character certainly lives in a noir world that has passed him by and I just love it. 

Ira's partner (Howard Duff) turns up dead and he's on the case.

Carney is Ira Wells, an old school semi-retired detective with a bad gut whose former partner turns up murdered on his doorstep. Ira's quest to get to the bottom of the murder leads him to Margo Sperling, a New Age kook who wants Ira to find her missing cat. I think Margo, in another decade, would have visited that New Age church in "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye," but I digress. Through a clever series of events, Margo's missing cat and Ira's dead partner are connected.

Ira and Margo work the case

There is a sexy femme fatale and lots of sleazy and quirky characters that fill in the blanks before all questions are answered.

The Femme Fatale

The quirky characters

Margo, played with such spirited joy by Lily Tomlin, begins to care about Ira and reluctantly, Ira starts to warm up to Margo. They are a real odd couple and their developing fondness for one another is at the heart of the film, although the story line is as good as any of the above-mentioned noirs (Robert Benton's screenplay was Oscar nominated). Not to spoil anything, but Margo gets her cat back and she and Ira might be available to crack another case.

Might as well take the ride together

So, I'm still not sure how to define film noir. It is usually black and white, but doesn't have to be, it usually is lower budget, but doesn't have to be, and there is a gorgeous and deadly femme fatale, but that is not necessarily so. I guess it's just a feeling, kind of like art: I'll know it when I see it.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Binding Ties Made of Film: Remembering The Caftan Woman

This is my entry in the Caftan Woman Blogathon, hosted by The Lady Eve's Reel Life and Another Old Movie Blog. Click on either link above for for more Caftan Woman tributes.

I hardly know where to begin. My eyes are welling up with tears as I write this. Funny thing is, I never met Paddy, nor did I ever really have a conversation with her, on line or otherwise. I only knew her through her blog postings and her comments on my own blog. And yet.. and yet...

First of all, Paddy was a shining example of what a community blogger should be. She faithfully, and I mean faithfully, left a heartfelt and thoughtful comment on everything I wrote. Sadly, I can not say the same for me. In her memory, I will try to be a more supportive blogger to my fellow CMBA writers. It is important to support our fellow bloggers. We all know how much a thoughtful comment means to us.

Next, she introduced me to a whole host of films I would never, ever have even peeked at. They were mainly westerns - which I always resist and then find I like - and of course, Charlie Chan. Boy did she love those films. She was the kind of gal I envision surrounded by brothers.

Lastly, her love of film just poured through her words. So much so that I knew every word of love expressed for a fondly remembered film bound me to her in an almost mystical way (we shared a mutual love for all things Warner Brothers). It was as though a magic strip of film wound 'round our hearts and united us in our love of movies.  

Rest in peace, dear lady, and thank you, thank you, thank you for your joy, passion and generosity.