Pre-Code Crazy: Three on a Match (1932)

•October 7, 2015 • 3 Comments

My Pre-Code Crazy selection for October, Three on a Match (1932), holds a special place in my heart.

It’s one of the first pre-Codes I ever saw. Its cast offers an embarrassment of riches:  Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Warren William, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Dvorak, Lyle Talbot, Allen Jenkins, Edward Arnold, Clara Blandish, Grant Mitchell, Jack LaRue! And its economical running time of just 63 minutes is full to bursting with pre-Code yumminess – everything from extramarital relationships and divorce to kidnapping and drug use.

It’s a must-see, for sure.

Here are the top 10 reasons why Three on A Match is my hands-down Pre-Code Crazy pick of the month!

  1. The film’s title refers to the belief that it’s bad luck to light three cigarettes using one match – and that it’s especially hazardous to the person whose cigarette is lit last. It’s typically thought to stem from a wartime superstition, when soldiers often used one match to light the cigarettes of several smokers. It was said that when the match was struck, an enemy sniper would train his sights and fire by the time the third man was having his cigarette lit. It turns out, thought, that the saying actually originated with a man named Ivan Kreuger, known as The Swedish Match King, who thought up the whole idea as a way to sell more matches. It worked, too – use of the saying reportedly brought Kreuger’s company $5 million more in revenue each year.

    Anne Shirley (billed as Dawn O'Day) played the young Vivian.

    Anne Shirley (billed as Dawn O’Day) played the young Vivian.

  2. The film’s feature characters are Vivian Kirkwood (Ann Dvorak), Mary Keaton (Joan Blondell), and Ruth Wescott (Bette Davis). When the film opens, we see the three as schoolchildren – they all graduated together from New York’s P.S. 62 (which, incidentally, is the Chester Park School located in Queens, NY). The opening scenes deftly establish the characters of the girls – Mary is a rebellious tomboy who ditches class to smoke pilfered cigarettes with the boys, and doesn’t care if her black bloomers are seen when she swings upside down on the playground equipment. Vivian, voted the most popular girls in her class, is also the snootiest and prissiest. And Ruth is sweet, kind and smart – at the school’s commencement exercises, the principal announces that she earned “the highest marks ever attained by anyone in this school.” (Trivia tidbit – the Vivian-as-a-student character is played by a young, brunette Anne Shirley, billed as her original stage name, Dawn O’Day.) Incidentally, the girls continue along the paths established during their school years – Ruth goes to business college and Vivian enrolls in an exclusive boarding school. And Mary? She winds up in a reformatory for committing grand larceny.
  3. The film uses newspaper headlines to indicate the passage of time. It’s a unique device, and also provides an interesting history capsule from 1919 to 1931, informing us of the onset of Prohibition and women’s suffrage, the successful bouts of iconic boxer Jack Dempsey, the introduction of President Warren Harding’s “Era of Good Feeling,” the crash of the USS Shenandoah naval airship, and popular songs of the day like “The Sheik of Araby,” “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes,” and “I Found a Million Dollar Baby.”
  4. After graduation, Vivian, Mary and Ruth lose touch with each other, but a happenstance meeting at a beauty salon brings them together again years later, and they catch up during lunch, when the women all light cigarettes from the same match. In a subtle bit of foreshadowing (or maybe it’s not so subtle, huh?), Vivian’s cigarette is the last lit. And when Mary remarks on the “three on a match” superstition, Vivian offhandedly rejoins, “What’s the difference?” (Cue ominous music.)
  5. One of my favorite pre-Code baddies, Lyle Talbot, has a featured role in the film. (Not that Talbot always plays bad boys, mind you – but when he does – oh, boy!) From the moment you see him, you know he’s no good. But you have no idea just how “no good” he really is. At first, he seems to be a fun-loving, carefree, live-for-the-moment, kind of guy. We soon learn, however, that there’s a thin line between care-free and care-less. If you know what I mean.

    That's Vivian on the bed, with Mary looking on in pity. What a difference a couple of years makes, huh?

    That’s Vivian on the bed, with Mary looking on in pity. What a difference a couple of years makes, huh?

  6. Vivian’s character is, to me, one of cinema’s most interesting and unusual. She seems to have it all, but she’s miserable, for reasons that even she doesn’t understand. As she tells her old chums over their meal: “I suppose I should be the happiest woman in the world. Beautiful home, successful husband and a nice youngster, but . . . somehow, the things that make other people happy leave me cold. I guess something must have been left out of my makeup.” Her inability to find joy in her good fortune eventually leads to her complete destruction.
  7. Vivian’s son, Junior, is (allegedly) played by Dickie Moore, who passed in September 2015 at the age of 89. He’s about six years old here, but he was playing a three-year-old. And for what it’s worth, I know that Dickie Moore is credited with this role, and there seems to be absolutely no doubt in the cinematic world that it’s actually him, but the little boy in the film just does not look like Dickie Moore to me! Seriously – look at pictures of Moore as a child and then look at little Junior. (See below, y’all.) This is not the same kid!!! But I digress. Anyway, whoever this child actor is, he’s a thoroughly adorable, natural little performer, and just as cute as he can be. You just want to pinch his cheeks, ruffle his curly locks, and give him a big ol’ bear hug. (I’ve noticed from other reviews that some people find him annoying, which I can actually understand quite well, but I like him. Whoever he is.)

    Bette in a slip. Stardom is just around the corner.

    Bette in a slip. Stardom is just around the corner.

  8. Not-yet-a-star Bette Davis has the least interesting role of the three principals, but she at least gets to have the film’s gratuitous lingerie shot. The entire time while she’s having a rather somber chat with Joan Blondell, we’re treated to the sight of Davis, clad in a slip, donning her stockings and adjusting her garters.
  9. Ann Dvorak is a standout in the film – her Vivian is my favorite Dvorak performance. And what a role! Talk about riches to rags: she starts out filthy rich, living in a mansion, swaddled in furs, riding about in a chauffeur-drive town car, and ends up . . . well, let’s just say she trades in her minks for something a bit less furry. It’s a pretty drastic transformation and Dvorak carries it off brilliantly. You’ll be mesmerized.
  10. The film doesn’t pull any punches. The last eight minutes, in particular, are among the most harrowing I’ve seen in any movie from this era – and they’re a perfect representation of why I love pre-Code so much. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say this: you ain’t never seen Allen Jenkins like this!

Three on a Match airs on TCM on October 15th – grab yourself a glass of something and make a date with this first-rate pre-Coder. You. Will. Not. Be. Sorry.

I promise.


When you’re finished over here, be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what Kristina has selected for her Pre-Code Crazy pick of the month!


And one last thing:

Check it out:


This is Dickie Moore.

This is Dickie Moore with Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, released in November 1932.








AND . . .

This is the kid from Three on a Match, released in September 1932. What is his name? I. DON’T. KNOW.

The William Wellman Blogathon: Lilly Turner (1933)

•September 10, 2015 • 5 Comments

Lilly Turner (1933) is one of those First National Pictures where the opening credits show each of the main characters in the film – you know what I’m talking about?  I always enjoy seeing these credits – there’s something about them that makes me feel like I’m about to experience something. And in the case of Lilly Turner, I was right.

The first performer that we see in the credits for Lilly Turner is, fittingly, Ruth Chatterton who plays the title role. We only see her for a few seconds, but in that brief span of time, we find out all we need to know about this dame. She’s smoking a cigarette and staring directly into the camera, with an expression on her face that’s somewhere between a scowl and a headache. She seems to be issuing a silent challenge:

“Go ahead. I dare you.”

It makes for a perfect opening to this William Wellman-directed feature, which is practically spilling over with pre-Code goodness – just when you think you can’t take one more tragic event or any further scandal, you turn around and BAM – there’s another dab of disgrace for ya. You’re welcome.

Lilly was another thing altogether.

The film opens with the wedding of Lilly Turner to vaudevillian Rex Durkee (Gordon Westcott), who only has to say a few words to the wedding guests and we can tell he’s a pretty massive tool. We get a big ol’ hint of things to come when we learn that Lilly’s mother is totally against the union: “If she’d only wait until she knows him better.” Another touch of foreshadowing arrives courtesy of one of Lilly’s gal pals, who’s seated in the living room next to her own buxom mother, waiting for the ceremony to begin. Gazing admiringly at Rex, she makes a comment about his good looks, adding:  “Lilly’s lucky.” And her mother shoots her a look of disgust and emits a contemptuous “Hmph.”

And we don’t have to wait long to find out that Mother (both of them) knows best. Before the couple even boards the train, Rex is mooching money off of his wife, and seconds after the locomotive pulls away from the station, Lilly learns that they’re not headed for New York, as planned, but instead, on a vaudeville tour that includes stops from Scranton to Carbondale – with Lilly as his scantily clad assistant.


Did I fail to mention that Guy Kibbee is in this movie? BONUS!!

Not enough pre-Code for ya? How about this? As Lilly’s husband continues to show his true colors, their marriage quickly deteriorates – but then, she learns that she’s pregnant, and a short time later, Rex takes a powder. But that’s not all. Lilly finds out that Rex’s divorce from his previous wife is, shall we say, non-existent, and that she’s not legally married. She’s helped out of this dilemma (the pregnant without benefit of clergy dilemma) by her pal, Dave Dixon (Frank McHugh) – an unendingly sweet guy who happens to be a hopeless alcoholic; Dave marries her so that her child will have a name, but I’ll bet you can guess what happens. That’s right – the baby dies. (Womp womp.)

Bob was Lilly’s knight in shining armor. For a while, anyway.

Into all of this chaos, suffering and misery walks a shining beacon of light and hope in the form of Bob Chandler (George Brent), a taxicab driver who joins the traveling medicine show that employs Lilly and Dave. With Bob, Lilly finds true love, resulting in such happiness that even she can hardly believe it: “I feel like I’ve been born all over again,” she gushes – and then adds: “Whoa, Lilly – you’re talking like an Easter card.”

But if this movie has taught you anything, it’s this: (1) happy times are not as entertaining – cinematically speaking – as bad times, and (2) there’s always room for more bad times. And boy, do they keep on rolling. But I’ll let you find out the rest for yourself. Suffice it to say that the remaining 20 minutes or so that are left in this film are crammed with insanity, obsession, sacrifice, tragedy – and one of the wildest fight scenes you’ll ever want to see. (And, incidentally, just in case I haven’t conveyed this so far, Lilly is no pushover or delicate flower. She’s one of the baddest, take-no-crap pre-Code dames you’ll ever want to see!)

Lilly Turner’s not on DVD, but it airs from time to time on TCM. If you ever get the chance, please be sure to check it out.

P.S. You know how I love trivia – here’s a few tidbits for ya:

Gordon Westcott was no stranger to scandal.

Gordon Westcott was no stranger to scandal.

  • The actor who played Rex Durkee – Gordon Westcott – was in numerous pre-Codes, including Heroes for Sale (also directed by Wellman), Footlight Parade, and Fog Over Frisco. Westcott – whose real name was Myrthus Hickman (!) – died on Halloween 1935; three days earlier, he’d received an injury to his skull when his horse fell on him during a polo match. He was just 31 years old. Several months before his death, Westcott was named in a $307,315 damage suit by 25-year-old Hazel Beth McArthur, who claimed that she’d met Westcott in a Los Angeles tent show in 1926 and married the actor, with whom she lived for more than a year, but that he’d fled to New York after learning that McArthur was pregnant with their child. McArthur further stated that she didn’t discover until 1932 that Westcott was already married and that their marriage was invalid. (Incredibly ironic, given the plot of this film, huh?) With Westcott’s tragic end coming just seven months after the suit was filed, it’s not likely that McArthur saw any of the money she was seeking, though I could be wrong. What is a fact, however, is that the daughter she gave birth to in 1928 grew up to be actress Helen Westcott, who can be seen in such films as The Gunfighter (1950) and With a Song in My Heart (1952), and TV shows ranging from  Perry Mason to The Twilight Zone.

    Markey with wife number 2.

    Markey with wife number 2.

  • One of the writers of the Lilly Turner screenplay was Gene Markey, who also penned such classics as 1933’s Midnight Mary (another film helmed by William Wellman), Female (which also starred Ruth Chatterton), and Baby Face. (He worked on all four of these films with writer Kathryn Scola.) Markey was a movie star magnet – he was married a total of four times, and his first three wives were Joan Bennett, Hedy Lamarr, and Myrna Loy. (Dayum!!)
  • Warner Bros. tried to re-release Lilly Turner in 1936, but the Production Code office put the kibosh on their efforts by refusing to issue the requisite approval certificate. (I wouldn’t wonder!)SSLilly6

Do yourself a favor and check out Lilly Turner if you can.

You only owe it to yourself.


This post is part of the William Wellman blogathon, sponsored by the fabulous Liz over at Now Voyaging. Click the banner to the right to read the great offerings that are part of this event! You’ll be glad you did.

Pre-Code Crazy: Central Park (1932)

•September 3, 2015 • 1 Comment

Why did I pick Central Park (1932) for my Pre-code Crazy selection of the month? Because, for gosh sakes, it’s got everything in it but the kitchen sink – resulting in an economical 57 minutes of sheer entertainment! (Plus, it stars Joan Blondell. I actually should have said that first!)

Central Park is set – where else? – in New York’s Central Park, focusing primarily on Dot (Joan Blondell) and Rick (Wallace Ford), unemployed youngsters who “meet cute” over a couple of pilfered hot dogs. But as easy as they are on the eyes, they’re far from the only interesting thing about this film. Here’re some other reasons to check out this pre-Code gem:

  • Beat cop Charlie Cabot (Guy Kibbee) who has watched over the park for 30 years, is now just a week away from retirement, and he’s also losing his eyesight. What do you want to bet that these two factors will come into play during the movie?
  • Dot gets caught up in a scheme by a couple of crooks posing as cops to rip off a beauty contest fundraiser, which will crown “Fifth Avenue’s Most Beautiful Girl.” The cost of admission is one hundred dollars, which is earmarked to help the city’s unemployed citizens. (Quite a hefty sum, seeing as this is the Depression!)
  • Lion-loving Robert Smiley (John Wray), a former keeper at the Central Park Zoo, escapes from the insane asylum. He’s described by one character as “strong as an ox and crazy as a loon,” and another – Luke (Charles Sellon) – makes fun of him, joking that Smiley mails postcards to the lions and recently sent a box of chocolates to a leopard. Turns out that Luke and Smiley weren’t exactly bosom pals back in the day; unlike Smiley, Luke’s not fond of the big cats (he frequently teases Nebo, the zoo’s African lion, with a broom handle), and Smiley attacked Luke with a meat ax just before he was hauled off to the” booby hatch.” What do you want to bet that Smiley heads straight for Central Park?
  • The two fake cops abduct Rick and keep him hostage at their hideout, suspecting that he knows about their plot to steal the contest money. Left alone with one of the members of their gang, Rick calls upon his skills as a former rodeo performer to pull off a slick maneuver that lands his captor on the floor, ass over teakettle. Quite a nifty brawl follows. You’ll want to cheer.
  • A series of bizarre circumstances results in Nebo the lion’s escape from his cage – he makes his way through the park (at one point actually climbing into a taxicab, but unless I blinked, we never saw how he got out), leaving screaming crowds in his wake, and he winds up in the ballroom that’s jam-packed with Park Avenue swells. (It’s really something to see.)
  • Sweet-faced and unassuming, Rick turns out to be a real action hero – fearlessly chasing robbers, dodging bullets, capturing killers. He’s like the Depression-era Superman!

And just for giggles, here’re a few other tidbits about the movie:

  • The cast includes Henry B. Walthall, a star from the silent movie era, who portrayed Eby, one of the workers at the zoo. He died of influenza at the age of 58, four years after the release of Central Park. (Incidentally, this is the first movie in which I noticed Walthall as a performer; before this, I only was aware of him because Louise Closser Hale mentioned him by name in Dinner at Eight.)
  • The film’s director, John Adolfi, also died in his 50s – the year after he directed Central Park, he suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. Adolfi started his career as an actor, later formed a partnership with George Arliss, and directed several of Arliss’s films, including The Man Who Played God (1932) and Voltaire (1933).
  • One of the writers of the film’s screenplay was Earl Baldwin, a prolific writer who also penned the screenplays for Blondie Johnson (1933), Wild Boys of the Road (1933), and Brother Orchid, among many others.
  • Central Park was one of 10 films in which Joan Blondell appeared in 1932, and it was one of several in which she appeared with Guy Kibbee; others included Big City Blues (1932), Gold Diggers of 1933, and Dames (1934).

Central Park airs on TCM on September 11th, first thing in the morning. Don’t miss it. And be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code flick Kristina’s crazy about this month!

You only owe it to yourself.


Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: All I can say is “WHEW!”

•September 1, 2015 • 11 Comments

Made it by the skin of my teeth. You don’t know the half of it.

When Raquel over at Out of the Past announced this year’s Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge, I couldn’t wait to sign up! It would be my third year participating, and I’d been stockpiling potential books all year long, in anticipation of this event.

I jumped in with both feet in June, when the challenge kicked off, but a funny thing happened on the way to the bookshelf. By August 28th – just a few short days before the end of the challenge, I was still reading my THIRD book!


I double-checked the cutoff date for the event and, confirming that it was, indeed, September 1st, I figured that I just wasn’t going to make it this year. But then something came over me (it must’ve been a little like the feeling that the Grinch experienced when his heart grew three sizes) – I was absolutely, positively determined that, come hell or high water, headache or eyestrain, I was going to read six books by the deadline!

So this past Saturday, after finishing my third book, I turned off my TV, settled down with some snacks, snagged a couple of pairs of reading specs, and got busy!!  I admit there were times when I literally had to read out loud to keep from dozing off, and there were other times when I asked myself (again, out loud), “What is WRONG with you?!” – but I kept plugging away and, as of Sunday night, at 10:20 pm, I finished my sixth book! Yeaaah, boyeeee!!!!!!!

So, still running on the fumes of this weekend’s marathon reading session, I give you my reviews on my six choices for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge:

The Best of Everything (1958) by Rona Jaffe

The screen version of The Best of Everything, released in 1959 and starring Hope Lange, Diane Baker, and Joan Crawford, is one of my most loved guilty pleasures. So you can just imagine how jazzed I was to read the book on which the film was based, penned by one of my favorite authors, Rona Jaffe (who, by the way, passed away on my birthday, nearly 10 years ago). The book focuses primarily on three twenty-ish girls, working, living, and loving in New York City, filled with big dreams and bigger desires. (Does that sound like something out of Ross Hunter movie, or what?) Set in the early 1950s, the book’s main character is pretty, level-headed Caroline Bender, whose college sweetheart dumped her to marry the daughter of a Dallas oil man. Caroline is smart and ambitious, and we watch her work her way up the ladder of success at a popular publishing company, from secretary to reader to editor. Caroline’s roommate is Gregg Adams, a would-be actress whose beauty is matched only by her neurotic insecurity.  And the trio is rounded out by Caroline’s closest friend and co-worker April Morrison, whose life is nearly destroyed when she falls helplessly in love with a handsome, wealthy playboy who also happens to be a complete asshat.

Fairly brimming with characters so well-drawn you feel like you know each one of them, the book also features Barbara Lemont, a young single mother looking for love; Amanda Farrow, Caroline’s bitchy boss; Mary Agnes Russo, whose end-all and be-all is her upcoming wedding; Mike Rice, a functional alcoholic who becomes one of Caroline’s closest confidantes; and Mr. Shalimar, an executive at Fabian Publications who tries to put the moves on anything with a skirt.

The book was everything I expected it to be, and more. The screen version closely followed the book’s multiple storylines, but differed in several fundamental ways when it came to Caroline Bender. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone out there intending to read it, but suffice it to say that Caroline was more daring and interesting on the page than she was on the screen. I’ll also say that, while Caroline wound up with Mike Rice at the end of the film, that certainly isn’t what happened in the book – and although we don’t assume that she’s headed for a life of casserole recipes, freshly laundered diapers, and a white picket fence, we’re pretty sure that she’s going to have a good time getting wherever she’s going.

Ex-Wife (1929) by Ursula Parrott

I have been wanting to read this book for, like, EVER. It’s the book on which one of my favorite pre-Codes, The Divorcee (1930), was based, and when I finally was able to get my hands on it, I thought I’d pass out from sheer delight.

The “ex-wife” of the title is Patricia, a beautiful and successful advertising copywriter who tells us in the book’s opening: “My husband left me four years ago. Why – I don’t precisely understand, and never did. Nor, I suspect, does he.” But we sure do – Patricia’s husband, Peter, did the horizontal hokey-pokey with some random dame and Patricia, figuring turnabout was fair play, did a similar deed with one of Peter’s oldest buddies. Compelled to confess her infidelity, Patricia wisely avoids telling her spouse the name of her co-conspirator – but she very unwisely, instead, decides to tell him she’s been with more than one man. And that, as they say, was the beginning of the end.

And that also is one of the few similarities between this book and the film that developed from it. Other than the fact that Patricia and Peter do, in fact, get divorced, and that there’s a character in the book whose face has been horribly disfigured as a result of a drunk-driving accident – and that Patricia is, shall we say, less than chaste once she becomes an “ex-wife” – there’s precious little in the book that has anything to do with the resulting film. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The book was absolutely riveting – not only did it contain such rich characterizations as those of Patricia and her best friend, Lucia – another “ex-wife” (for a time, at least) – but it also offered some episodes so shocking to me that I could barely believe what I was reading. My favorite example of this occurs when during a particularly nasty argument, Peter picks Patricia up and throws her through a glass door. (“I lay on the breakfast room floor,” Patricia tells us, “and thought vaguely that things like this did not happen.”) This was 1929, y’all! Crazy, right?

We follow Patricia through her divorce, her relationships with a series of men (including the doctor who arranges for her abortion after, shortly before her final split with Peter, she learns that she’s pregnant), her genuine and lasting friendships with several friends – male and female – and her brief encounter with the kind of love that one only reads about in fairy tales. And I don’t mind telling you that the end of the book left me with eyes so tear-filled I couldn’t even see the words in front of me.  I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a book this much. It’s a must-read.

Bob Dorian’s Classic Movies: Behind the Scenes of 100 Great Movies from Hollywood’s Golden Years (1990) by Bob Dorian and Dorothy Curley

I was a huge fan of the American Movie Classics channel during its heyday in the 1980s; much of my classic film collection consists of movies that I taped from AMC back in the day, and I was a great admirer of host Bob Dorian – the precursor, if you will, to our beloved Robert Osborne of TCM.  It was a no-brainer, then , for me to purchase this book when it was released in 1990 – yet, in all these years, I never read more than a couple of pages. It was great fun to remedy that.

The 100 films covered in the book include such personal favorites as Alice Adams, Dinner at Eight, Grand Hotel, His Girl Friday, You Can’t Take it With You, A Letter to Three Wives, Laura, Jezebel, and Nightmare Alley – as well as others that, to date, I still haven’t seen, like Young Mr. Lincoln, Gunga Din, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and The Quiet Man (yeah, I know, I KNOW!!). There’s only a brief, one sentence synopsis on each film, along with a listing of the cast, director, and producer – what we get most of is fascinating anecdotes and interesting tidbits of trivia; we learn, for instance, that during the filming of Anna and the King of Siam (1946), Gale Sondergaard spent so much time kneeling in her role as the king’s first wife that she came down with a condition known as “housewife’s knees.” And that, having been born in Tokyo and raised in Stockton, California, the first time Joan Fontaine ever saw snow (even though it was artificial) was on the set of 1944’s Jane Eyre. Or that the sound of the great ape’s footsteps in King Kong (1933) were made by toilet plungers covered in sponge rubber and “walked” over gravel. I love stuff like this, and Bob Dorian’s book is chock full of it on every page. I can’t believe I had this gem in my house for 25 years and never checked it out! (Speaking of 25 years, one issue was mentioned in the book several times – film colorization. Apparently, at the time of the book’s publication, colorization was a hot topic, and one to which Dorian was passionately opposed. Thank goodness those days are behind us.)

Dishing Hollywood (2003) by Laurie Jacobson

This book serves up (no pun intended) favorite recipes of our favorite stars, along with a heaping helping of juicy gossip. Written in a casually conversational tone, Jacobson (who is married, incidentally, to former Lassie child star Jon Provost) shares stories about “Tinseltown’s most notorious scandals,” focusing on stars from Gary Cooper to Bing Crosby, and Clara Bow to Lana Turner. There are also some more recent celebrities tossed in for good measure, like River Phoenix, Phil Spector, Robert Blake, and Divine.

There’s not a whole lot of new information here – despite how entertainingly it may be presented. We all know about Eddie Fisher leaving lovable Debbie Reynolds for homewrecking Elizabeth Taylor; Robert Mitchum’s marijuana bust; and the stabbing death of Lana Turner’s boyfriend at the hands of her teenage daughter.  And while the book does contain information that I hadn’t previously known (the mysterious circumstances surrounding Inger Stevens’ “suicide,” for instance), there was a chapter devoted to the murder of The Black Dahlia that put a bit of a cloud over the entire proceedings. (The Black Dahlia, for those of y’all not in the know, was the name given to a murder victim in L.A. in the late 1940s who was found dismembered in an open field. The murder was never officially solved.) In this section, Jacobson describes a truly disturbing set of circumstances based on the recollections of a woman who claimed to be the daughter of the Black Dahlia’s killer. The information was presented as fact – which prompted me to head over to the World Wide Web when I finished reading it, and I found that while the woman’s claims were a fact, there certainly had been no determination that they represented what had actually happened to the woman known as The Black Dahlia.

My favorite chapter was the one on Cheiro – a renowned palmist whose uncanny predictions turned him into a favorite of the Hollywood set and a celebrity in his own right. Among his many astounding feats was this one: when he left Europe to take on New York, the local press gave him a challenge – they presented him with 13 palm prints and challenged him to identify the owner of each hand. After studying the prints half the night, he correctly named each one, which included singer Lillian Russell, the city’s mayor, and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

There’s not a whole lot of depth to be found here, but the recipes – which include a few cocktails! – are fun to read and it’s a diverting bit of fluff, good for passing a rainy day with a cool glass of William Desmond Taylor’s Orange Blossoms, or a slice of Carole Landis’s Lemon Chiffon Pie.

The Dark Page (2007) by Kevin Johnson

Another publication I’ve had in my home for years is this beautiful coffee table tome that shines the spotlight on books that inspired some of the silver screen’s greatest examples of film noir between 1940 and 1949. I’d previously looked at the beautiful full-color photos in the book, and skimmed some of the text here and there, but I’d never sat down and read it from cover to cover. Each entry features information about the book and its author, as well as the resulting film. And reading this fascinating stuff made me want to kick myself for waiting so long to check it out!

First off, I was interested to learn that numerous noirs were based on books written by women, including Libbie Block, author of Wild Calendar – which became 1946’s Caught, with Robert Ryan and Barbara Bel Geddes; Phyllis Bottome, who wrote Murder in the Bud, the basis of the Zachary Scott-Faye Emerson vehicle Danger Signal (1945); Marcia Davenport, author of East Side, West Side – which, on the big screen starred James Mason and Ava Gardner; Lucy Beatrice Malleson who, as Anthony Gilbert, wrote The Woman in Red – better known on screen as My Name is Julia Ross; and Mary Holland, who wrote Fallen Angel as Marty Holland, and also wrote the original screenplay for the 1950 Barbara Stanwyck noir, The File on Thelma Jordon.

Next, as with the Bob Dorian tome, I was treated to a bushel-full of fascinating stories. For example, I learned that Somerset Maugham, author of The Casuarina Tree (which was renamed The Letter for the screen), based his tale on a real-life incident that took place in Singapore in 1911, involving one Ethel Proudlock.  I also discovered that the author of Knock on Any Door, Willard Motley, was a middle-class, Roman Catholic, African-American, and that The Snake Pit, by Mary Jane Ward, was based on the author’s own experiences in a mental institution. Probably my favorite tidbit was this one about Dashiell Hammett, author of The Glass Key. According to the book, Hammett was well-known for his ability to get on paper what he wanted the first time, resulting in little – if any – need for later revisions. In 1930, he penned a letter to his publisher Alfred A. Knopf, which read as follows: “I am returning your invoice for excess corrections on The Glass Key. These corrections were made necessary by someone in your editorial department who, with unlimited amounts of time, energy, and red ink at his disposal, simply edited the Jesus out of my manuscript. If you’ll take a look at the manuscript, which I think is still in your hands, you’ll see you’re very lucky I haven’t billed you for the trouble I was put to unediting it.” Love. It.

Finally, the book introduced me to more than 20 films that I’ve developed a mission to find and watch, including The Woman in White (1948), with Alexis Smith and Eleanor Parker; Larceny (1948), starring John Payne; I Love Trouble (1947), featuring Franchot Tone and Janet Blair; and Repeat Performance (1947), with Louis Hayward and John Leslie. And I thought I’d seen just about all the noir there was to see! Boy, was I wrong!

This is an absolutely gorgeous book, which offers a veritable treasure trove of information and is a delight to the eyes, too. And, best news – there a Part II that covers the years 1950 to 1965! (Maybe I’ll include that one in next summer’s challenge . . .)

Bad Movies We Love (1993) by Edward Margulies and Stephen Rebello

This book is a positive scream, and was the perfect publication to wrap up my Summer Reading Challenge. In it, the authors send up hundreds of films released between 1933 and the early 1990s, but they emphasize that these are neither low-budget disasters such as Plan 9 From Outer Space, nor big-budget fiascos like Ishtar or Hudson Hawk. Instead, they’re the kind of films that “have gone wonderfully, irredeemably, lovably haywire.”

The authors’ descriptions of these films is laugh-out-loud funny – take, for instance, this account of The Poseidon Adventure (1972): “Here is the ‘disaster movie’ touchstone, a laughathon that for years sent diehards rushing out to see each new Meteor or Hindenburg in hopes that it might deliver the kind of ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ goods that this gem does.  On New Year’s Eve, a wave flip-flops an ocean liner upsy-daisy and the Not-Quite-All-Stars aboard must climb ‘up’ through the ship before it sinks. . . . The cast starts their escape by climbing a Christmas tree (don’t ask), which allows us to watch two Oscar-winning pros like [Gene] Hackman and Shelley Winters honing their ‘craft’: When the fat Winters gets stuck, Hackman uses his meaty paw to give her maxi-buttocks a hefty Method shove.”

Even when you haven’t seen the movie – and I haven’t seen most of these – the discussion of the films is hilarious. Not only that, but it makes me want to see them! Beside the list of films noir that I plucked from my previous book, I’ve now compiled at least 30 “bad movies we love” that I’ve simply got to track down! In case you’re still not sure what kind of films fit into this side-splitting category, some of the many features covered include Johnny Guitar, Duel in the Sun, A Summer Place,  Where Danger LivesWalk on the Wild Side, Airport ’77 (in fact, every version of Airport ever made), All That Heaven Allows, Beyond the Forest, and Ruby GentryKitten With a Whip (one of my guilty pleasures in which Ann Margret actually says this line to John Forsythe: “Why do you think you’re such a smoky something when you’re just nothing painted blue?”). And there are entire chapters devoted to Mickey Rourke, Sharon Stone, Troy Donahue, and disaster movies. If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, and a session of total appreciation for some flicks that never got the attention they so richly deserved, give this one a look.

So, that’s it! I still can’t quite believe I pulled this one off, but my Summer Classic Reading Challenge is a wrap! Can’t wait ‘til next year!!

(And, now, good night.)

The Anti-Damsel Blogathon: Blondie Johnson (1933)

•August 15, 2015 • 19 Comments

SSBlondie1When we first meet Blondie Johnson, she’s begging for help from the Welfare and Relief Association. She tells the unsympathetic operative that she lives in the backroom of a drug store. She and her mother were turned out of their last apartment. They rely on the kindness of their neighbors for food. Her mother is suffering from pneumonia.

The man is unmoved by her tale of woe. A short time later, Blondie hurries back to the drug store, in a driving rainstorm, only to find that her mother has died. She breaks down in hysterical, heart-rending sobs.

It’s the last hint of distressed damsel that you’ll see from this dame.

“I’m going to get money and I’m going to get plenty of it.”

Blondie Johnson (1933) stars the always-fabulous Joan Blondell in the title role of a downtrodden Depression-era woman who transforms her existence from bleak oppression to indisputable triumph. Using her wits, her nerve, and her determination, Blondie starts out as a small-time con artist, but it’s not long before she’s a big-time gangster – her conversion begins shortly after her mother’s death, when the local priest advises her that it’s her job to “do something about [her] circumstances.”

“You’re right, Father. It is up to me. And I’m going to do something,” Blondie replies. “I’m going to get money and I’m going to get plenty of it.” And when the priest cautions her that there are two ways of getting money, Blondie agrees: “The hard way and the easy way.”

Spoken like a true anti-damsel.

Blondie Johnson is one of my favorite pre-Code characters. She was sometimes down, but she was never out. She didn’t take any crap from anybody – friend, foe, or lover. She kept a level head. She was forward-thinking, innovative, and fearless, but not reckless. And she did what she needed to do to get the job done. In different circumstances, she’d have made an ideal corporation head — heck, maybe even president! Don’t believe me? Check out some of Blondie’s anti-damsel acts:

“This city is going to be my oyster, and if you stick with me, you’re going to help me open it.”

  1. Blondie teams up with a cab driver (who, by the way, she tried to fleece at their first meeting) to wrangle cash from soft-hearted locals. One of her targets is Danny Jones (Chester Morris), a known hood who falls for her teary tale of misfortune and shells out ten bucks so she can make it on time to her fake job as a fictional nurse.
  2. After Danny figures out Blondie’s scheme, he confronts her as she’s counting out the evening’s earnings. He first swats her upside the head and then, when she cracks wise, he steps squarely on her foot. Blondie promptly slams her fist on top of his hand, causing Danny to retort in pain, “You’re a fresh dame.”
  3. Instead of shying away, Blondie’s curiosity is piqued when she learns that Danny is the right-hand man to a high-ranking gangster. Before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” she’s agreed to join Danny in a crafty plot to sway the jury in a murder trial – she not only comes up with the plan, but she skillfully executes it, resulting in a not guilty verdict for Danny’s pal.

    “When I met you, I thought you were a little above the average. But I see I’m wrong.”

  4. When Danny angrily tosses his wallet at Blondie, she gives it back to him: “I don’t want any of it. Not when you throw it at me like you throw slop to a pig,” she says. (What she doesn’t say is that she’d stealthily removed a thousand dollars from the wallet before she self-righteously returned it.)
  5. Danny tries to hit on Blondie. She pushes him off – literally and figuratively:  “I brought you here for business. But you don’t seem to be able to keep your mind on it.” Later, she continues to maintain her resolve, even when she and Danny begin to fall for each other. She admits to a girlfriend that she likes Danny, but adds, “I got plans. Big plans. And the one thing that don’t fit in with them is pants.”

    ‘I found out that the only thing worthwhile is dough. And I’m gonna get it, see?”

  6. Blondie works her way through the ranks of the mob, helps to topple the gang’s leader, and then muscles Danny out of the way, taking over as the head of the organization and operating it like an efficient, well-oiled machine.

And that’s just the beginning!

But in the words of Sir Isaac Newton (not to mention Blood, Sweat and Tears), what goes up must come down – and the same goes for Blondie’s rise to the top. I’ll let you watch the movie to find out the specifics regarding her descent, but I will say this: even in defeat, Blondie kept her head high – anti-damsel to the end.


This post is part of the Anti-Damsel Blogathon, hosted by Fritzi at Movies, Silently, and Joey at The Last Drive-In.

Do yourself a favor and check out the defiant, determined, and dynamic dames being covered in this first-rate event!

You only owe it to yourself, y’know.

Pre-Code Crazy: Sadie McKee (1934)

•August 2, 2015 • 5 Comments

I have to share this with y’all.

My choices for August’s Pre-Code Crazy pick came down to two movies: Sadie McKee (1934) and Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise (1931).

I love Sadie McKee and I’ve seen it, like, a gazillion times. Before today, I’d seen Susan Lenox just once, years ago. It seemed at first that between the two, Sadie McKee was a “gimme” – hands down, no contest. But Susan Lenox, even though I’d seen it only once, had stuck in my head all this time. So I decided to give the nod to Susan, watch the movie again, and write it up as my recommendation to y’all as my selection for the month.

But as you can see from the title of this post, that’s not exactly how things worked out.

For about three-fourths of Susan Lenox, I was firmly on board with it as my pick – but the last 15 minutes or so left me with my brow furrowed and my mouth agape. And not necessarily in a good way. And although I initially planned to still stick with it, I found that, ultimately, I just couldn’t. One of these days, I’ll do a post on it and share the issues I have with the end of the film.

Meanwhile, Sadie McKee it is!!

I feel much better now.

Sadie McKee stars (my girl) Joan Crawford in the title role of a cook’s daughter whose life is transformed by love and by money. Let me explain.

Sadie and Michael in better times.

Sadie and Michael in better times.

As the film begins, we’re introduced to Sadie and her mother (Helen Ware), the cook for the filthy rich Aldersons, whose attorney son, Michael (Franchot Tone), was Sadie’s childhood friend. We also learn that Sadie’s boyfriend, Tommy Wallace (Gene Raymond), worked in the Aldersons’ factory until recently, when he was fired for stealing. While helping her mother during a fancy dinner at the Aldersons, Sadie overhears Michael badmouthing her beau and talking his father out of giving Tommy a second chance. Sadie is peeved, to put it mildly, and tells him off, but good.

Meanwhile, Tommy decides to move to New York to look for another gig, and at the last minute, Sadie throws caution to the winds and joins him. The two make plans to marry, but on the day that they’re to share their I dos, Tommy is a no-show, leaving Sadie with a broken heart and an overdue lodging bill.

It was love at first sight for Jack Brennan.

It was love at first sight for Jack Brennan.

To make ends meet, Sadie gets a job as a dancer in a nightclub where, one night, she catches the eye of Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold), a billionaire who has a pretty serious drinking problem. Brennan is accompanied by his lawyer, who happens to be none other than Michael Alderson. Sadie’s less than pleased to see him, and when Brennan is bowled over by her charms and proposes to her, Sadie accepts, mainly to spite Michael.

I’ll let you find out for yourself what happens next, but I will tell you that you haven’t seen the end of Tommy Wallace, and that the remainder of the film contains several unexpected twists that you won’t see coming. And I’ll also share some of the reasons why I love this movie and watch it so often:

  1. If you know anything about me at all, you know that I love me some Joan Crawford, and she can do no wrong in my book. And her performance in Sadie McKee is no different. When I say she owns this picture, I mean it – she’s in just about every scene, and when she’s not, you wish she was.

    All he does the whole day through is dream of her.

    All he does the whole day through is dream of her.

  2. In addition to his skills as a minor-league thief, Tommy Wallace has a pretty good singing voice and a way with a ukulele – and introduces what has become one of my favorite songs from this era: “All I Do Is Think Of You.” It was written for the movie by Nacio Herb Brown, with lyrics by Arthur Freed. The song ends up being performed several more times throughout the film – which is just all right with me. (Incidentally, the film also features a swinging rendition of “Old Pal” – the more I hear it, the more I want to hear it.)
  3. Sadie’s best friend, Opal, is played by Jean Dixon – a name that, sadly, few film fans recognize. But you’re sure to know her when you see her – she played the wisecracking maid in My Man Godfrey (1936) and Edward Everett Horton’s wife, Susan, in Holiday (1938), along with roles in She Married Her Boss (1935), Swing High, Swing Low (1937), and Joy for Living (1938). She’s a delight in Sadie McKee as the streetwise pal with a heart of gold – the kind of friend we could all use.

    I LOVE this.

    I LOVE this.

  4. After Sadie marries Brennan, she undergoes an immediate wardrobe transformation, courtesy of famed designed Adrian. Her coats with mink sleeves, sleek pantsuits, and art deco-style dresses are simply to die for.
  5. Interestingly, even though Tommy literally leaves Sadie waiting at the altar, she never stops loving him – and never stops making excuses for him. When Michael Alderson remarks that Sadie trusted Tommy and he “let you down,” Sadie protests. “Nothing of the kind,” she says. “He was afraid to take a chance getting married on nothing. He was just weak. He got all turned around.”
  6. The film doesn’t treat alcoholism as a comic device – it’s dealt with as a serious, very real problem. It’s believed to be one of the first Hollywood films to do so.

    Mmm. Pie. From the Automat.

    Mmm. Pie. From the Automat.

  7. One of the film’s scenes takes place in an Automat. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by Automats, and wish that I could have gone to one. There’s a crazy-cool dispenser shaped like the head of a duck where Sadie gets a cup of coffee – the coffee and cream come out of the duck’s bill.
  8. Sadie’s first encounter with Brennan takes place when an overaggressive patron at the nightclub grabs ahold of Sadie’s costume during her number. As she struggles with him, Brennan steps in, removes the man’s glasses, and gives his nose a violent twist. As Brennan walks away, the patron calls him a “big mug.”  Later in the scene, after Brennan buys champagne for everyone in the club, you can see this same patron in the background stand and salute Brennan, saying “I take it all back!” It’s kinda funny.

    "I do as I like because I like it."

    “I do as I like because I like it.”

  9. There’s a great scene near the film’s end where Sadie confronts Dolly Merrick, the vaudeville star who was the catalyst for Tommy jilting Sadie. Basically, it’s a fairly civilized exchange – although Sadie does tell Dolly at one point: “I could kill you and love it.” Oh, and she also pushes Dolly into a wardrobe hamper. Good stuff.
  10. And lastly, here’re a coupla bits of trivia – Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone got married the year after Sadie McKee was released.  (They divorced four years later.) Also, this film marked Leo G. Carroll’s screen debut – he portrayed Brennan’s butler. And, one more – scenes from Sadie McKee were used in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

That’s it. Sadie McKee airs on August 10th, during Joan Crawford day, part of TCM’s fabulous Summer Under the Stars event. Check it out and see why it’s one of my favorites – and don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy and find out what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending this month.

You only owe it to yourself.

1947 Blogathon: Day 3 Recap

•July 15, 2015 • 5 Comments

TomIt was delightful! It was delicious! It was delovely!

It was Day 3 of the 1947 Blogathon!

The third and final day of this fabulous event was jam-packed with scrumptious posts from a variety of talented bloggers – so grab yourself a snack, settle back, and enjoy today’s awesome offerings!


The Cinematic Frontier knows all about The Lady from Shanghai.

The Motion Pictures tells us what Bogie’s up to in Dark Passage.

Sister Celluloid gives us the low-down on The Man I Love.

Movies Silently accessorizes with Golden Earrings.

The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood knows that you should never Cry Wolf.

Critica Retro takes the Road to Rio.

Seven Doors of Cinema shares the magic of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Girls Do Film solves the riddle of The Lady from Shanghai.

A Shroud of Thoughts takes a peek inside Jassy.

Noirish goes inside Heartaches.

Reel Distracted knows better than to Ride the Pink Horse.

Speakeasy takes a ride down Trail Street.

Shadows and Satin knows why it’s so scary when The Devil Thumbs a Ride.

Motion Picture Gems says Welcome Stranger!


Silver Screen Modes takes a look at the Noir Films of 1947.

Silver Scenes whispers about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Thanks so much to all the great posters today! Be sure to visit Speakeasy tomorrow, where Kristina will provide a mammoth wrap-up of this super-cool event!


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