Because I’m feeling silly . . .

•February 9, 2016 • Leave a Comment

A guy walks into a bar after a long day at work and orders a drink. After his first sip, he hears a high-pitched voice.

“Hey mister! Nice pants!” it says.

He looks around, doesn’t see anything, and quickly shrugs it off. After a little bit, he takes another sip and hears the voice again.

OutPastBarBaja“Hey mister! Great shoes!”

Again, he looks around, sees nothing but a bartender who is busy attending to other customers. Shaking his head, he sips once more.

“Hey mister! Cool shirt!”

He puts down his drink, frustrated at this phantom voice, and signals to the bartender, who comes over.

“Hey barkeep,” he asks, “what is that high-pitched voice I keep hearing?”

“Oh, those are the peanuts,” the bartender replies. “They’re complimentary.”

Pre-Code Crazy: Golddiggers of 1933

•February 3, 2016 • 4 Comments

SSGold2If you recall, I began last month’s Pre-Code Crazy post by stating that I’m not exactly wild about musicals. And what do you think? My pick this month is another musical! What is going on?!?!

I’ll admit, February on TCM isn’t exactly brimming with pre-Code gems, but when I saw that Golddiggers of 1933 was on the list, I didn’t have to think twice about choosing it – it’s one of the handful of musicals that I watch whenever I get the chance.

First off, the film features a veritable who’s who of pre-Code vets: Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Aline MacMahon, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks – and bit parts by Sterling Holloway, Theresa Harris, Charles Lane, and Eric Blore. The cast alone is worth the price of admission.

SSGold3

Trixie, Carol, and Polly — the “Golddiggers.”

On paper, the film’s plot doesn’t sound like much. We have three out-of-work showgirls – Carol (Blondell), Polly (Keeler), and Trixie (MacMahon), who share a small apartment and make ends meet via such creative approaches as using a pair of ice tongs to steal milk from their neighbor’s balcony. The girls are thrilled when they learn about the opening of a new show, but they’re just as disappointed to also discover that the producer (Sparks) doesn’t have the financing he needs. Polly’s boyfriend, Brad (Powell), an aspiring songwriter, offers to put up the dough, leading Polly and her pals to suspect that he’s gotten the cash through less-than-legal means. It turns out that he’s a member of a wealthy Boston family, and when the news breaks, his stuffed shirt older brother, Lawrence (William), and the family banker (Kibbee), show up to put the kibosh on Brad’s involvement with Polly, who they’ve perceived as a golddigger. When Carol and Trixie get wind of William’s plan, they come up with a crafty little plan of their own, leading to mild chaos and angst – but all is well by the final reel.

SSGold4

The Waltz of the Shadows.

Woven between and around this flimsy plot is a series of eye-popping musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley. In fact, the movie doesn’t waste a second before showing us what Berkeley has in store – right after the opening credits, we’re tossed right into a rousing rendition of “We’re in the Money,” featuring Ginger Rogers – who sings part of the song in Pig Latin. Other numbers include “Waltz of the Shadows,” where dozens of chorus girls are seen dancing on a giant curved staircase with neon-lit violins, and “Remember My Forgotten Man,” which offers up a stark and stirring depiction of the effects of the Depression. Another standout is “Pettin’ in the Park” – this one features some hoofing from Ruby Keeler, Billy Barty as a rollerskating baby, and lyrics like these:

SSGold6

There’s a whole lotta pettin’ goin’ on!

Pettin’ on the sly, (Oh, my!)
Act a little shy, (Aw, why!)
Struggle just a little,
Then hug a little,
And cuddle up and whisper this:
“Come on, I’ve been waiting long,
Why don’t we get started?”
Come on, maybe this is wrong,
But, gee, what of it?
We just love it!

Golddiggers of 1933 may be light on substance, but there’s no denying that it’s overflowing with fun. Here are some more tidbits about this first-rate feature:

  • Dick Powell and Joan Blondell first met on this film. They got married three years later.
  • The film was selected in 2003 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
  • Golddiggers is based on the play The Gold Diggers, which ran for 282 performances in Broadway in 1919 and 1920. The cast of the opening night performance included Ina Claire and Lilyan Tashman.

    SSGold7

    Pre-Code? Yes!

  • Busby Berkeley makes a cameo appearance in the film – you can see him knocking on a door saying, “Hurry up boys, snap it up – Forgotten Man number!”
  • At the time the movie was made, Ginger Rogers was involved with the film’s director, Mervyn LeRoy.
  • The film offers plenty of pre-Code naughtiness. Gratutious scenes of ladies in their lingerie are sprinkled throughout, and the “Pettin’ in the Park” number includes a scene where a bunch of showgirls get caught in the rain and peel off their wet clothes behind a scrim – at least one of the ladies is obviously nude. Also, in a scene near the film’s end, where a passel of chorus girls are scrambling backstage, you can pretty clearly hear one of them say, “Shit! Where’s my shoe!”

pcc1Golddiggers of 1933 airs on TCM on February 11th – do yourself a favor and tune in! Whether you’ve seen it 20 times or never before, you’re bound to have a ball!

And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what movie Kristina has gone Pre-Code Crazy for in the month of February!

Pre-Code Crazy: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

•January 7, 2016 • 18 Comments

If you know anything about me at all, you might know that I’m not a huge fan of musicals. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I definitely have my favorites, like Golddiggers of 1933, 42nd Street, Seven Brides for Seven BrothersSingin’ in the Rain and, of course, The Wizard Oz. But as a rule, plopping down in front of a musical is not one of my preferred things to do.

So when I went to the TCM film festival last year and learned that one of the few pre-Codes being shown was a musical – The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) – I felt duty-bound as a pre-Code lover to see it, but my hopes were not high.

Boy, was I in for a surprise!

When I think about it, I actually should have known that I would fall in love with this film, as it’s connected with two of my cinematic crushes – it co-stars Miriam Hopkins, who can do absolutely no wrong in my book, and it’s directed by Ernst Lubistch – really, what more do I even need to say?

The title role of the film is played by Maurice Chevalier who, before this movie, I’d only seen in film clips singing “Every little breeze seems to whisper ‘Louise.’” Imagine my amazement, then, when I saw him in The Smiling Lieutenant as this adorable young man with an infectious smile and a decidedly devilish gleam in his eye. I was hooked from the first note!

I liked Colbert in this film. I really liked her!

I liked Colbert in this film. I really liked her!

Also featured in the film is Claudette Colbert – and I must confess, I’m not an enormous Colbert fan. However, like the film itself, Colbert’s performance turned out to be a delightful revelation. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s my favorite Colbert performance!

Until I started working on this post, I hadn’t viewed The Smiling Lieutenant since I saw it in March 2015, but as soon as I saw the word “Vienna” appear on the screen and heard the strains of Chevalier’s opening number, I realized I was smiling in anticipation.

The picture begins with a visit by a tailor to the home of Lt. Nikolaus “Niki” von Preyn of the Royal Guard, played by Chevalier. The tailor – with a hefty overdue bill in his hand – is unable to gain entrance, despite ringing the doorbell several times. Minutes later, though, after the tailor gives up, a pretty young girl arrives at the home, gives a special knock, and is instantly admitted. We aren’t privy to what goes on behind the closed doors, but we know by the gaslight that she’s there until morning, and when she departs, we see by the Cheshire cat-like smile on the face of the lieutenant that they weren’t exactly playing tiddly winks all night. If you know what I mean.

Charlie Ruggles (left) played a small, but pivotal, role.

Charlie Ruggles (left) played a small, but pivotal, role.

Niki receives an early morning visit from his best pal, the very married Max, played by Charlie Ruggles. Max tells his friend that he’s become infatuated with a beautiful young woman by the name of Franzi (Colbert), who plays the violin in an all-girls band at a beer garden.  Although they’ve never met, Max is quite taken with the young musician: “What a figure she has – mmm!” he raves. “And, Niki, you should see her fingers!”

Max wants Niki to accompany him to see the young lady’s performance – and then slyly slip away, leaving Max alone with her. Niki initially expresses outrage: “You think I would lend myself to such an intrigue?” he asks, and then mischievously adds, “Let’s go!”

But once Niki spies her, all bets are off – like Max, Niki is drawn to the talented, sweet-faced fiddler, and his charm, sex appeal, and sheer moxie combine to leave Max literally holding Franzi’s violin case, but not much else. Niki and Franzi, meanwhile, only have eyes for each other. One minute, they’re playing a duet on the violin and piano, and the next, they’re a coo-some twosome.

When I spoke earlier of the enjoyable surprise this film represented for me, one of the many scenes that comes to mind is where Franzi prepares to leave Niki’s home after their first meeting. Following a passionate kiss, she decides that it would be best for her to depart (“I like you too much,” she says). She suggests that they meet the following evening for dinner, but Niki objects: “Oh, don’t make me wait 24 hours,” he says. “I’m so hungry!” (Wink, wink.) Franzi then suggests tea the following afternoon, to which Niki counteroffers, “What about breakfast tomorrow morning?” They kiss good night, and then we cut to the next day, where the two are sitting down to breakfast – and Franzi has on the same dress she had on the night before! (Whoa dere!) There’s nothing like pre-Code, I tell you.

"You put the glamour in the grapefruit!"

“You put the glamour in the grapefruit!”

Incidentally, while I – as I previously stated – am no lover of musicals, the musical numbers in The Smiling Lieutenant are a joy to watch and just as yummy as the rest of the film. Case in point is the song that Niki and Franzi sing to each other over breakfast, which offers lines like: “You put kisses in the coffee, such temptation in the tea – I get a thrill that sends a chill right through me when you pass the toast to me.” I’m not 100 percent positive, but I think that Colbert is doing her own singing, and the fact that she’s no Jeannette McDonald makes the song that much more enchanting.

While Niki and Franzi are falling in love, we’re introduced to Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) and her father, King Adolph XV, of the small, proud country of Flaustenthurm. King Adolph is a bit of a blustering blowhard, but he means well, and Anna, with her golden tresses tightly wound around her ears like a Viennese Princess Leia, is sheltered and unsophisticated; she herself admits: “I don’t know very much about life. I got all my knowledge out of the royal encyclopedia. A special edition arranged for Flausenthurm. With all the interesting things left out.” The two are paying a visit to Vienna, and their paths intersect – literally – with those of Niki and Franzi during their royal procession into the town. Niki and his fellow guardsmen are standing at attention on one side of the road, while Franzi is on the other side, along with the townspeople there to catch a glimpse of the visiting royals. Franzi is far more interested in Niki than the procession, and she blows kisses at her lover, mouthing, “I’m crazy about you.” In turn, he smiles broadly, waggles his eyebrows, and gives her a wink. It just so happens that the princess passes by at that very moment and thinks he’s laughing at her.

The princess quickly falls for Niki's charms. Who wouldn't?

The princess quickly falls for Niki’s charms. Who wouldn’t?

The princess and her father are mightily offended by Niki’s action, and order him to report to the palace where they are staying in Vienna. It’s not long, though, before Niki’s charms turn the princess’s frown upside down, and she falls under his spell, which sets up the action for the remainder of the film. For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of seeing this picture, I wouldn’t dare spoil it by telling you what happens, but I do have to point out another of the standout musical numbers, which vacillates between Princess Anna sharing her feelings about Niki with her matronly ladies in waiting, and Franzi and Niki singing about their love to each other. Princess Anna sits surrounded by the older women, as she giggles like a schoolgirl with a first crush: “He’s so mild, like a sweet child. His conduct shows him as such. I like him. Oh, I like him! I like him so much.” Franzi, in contrast, burrows into Niki’s arms, grabbing at his clothes and ruffling his hair: “I’ll thrill you ‘til I kill you, you son of a gun!” It’s really something to see.

The music and the stellar cast are far from the only recommenders for this film – its first-rate screenplay the dialogue is fairly bristling with wit. For example, in one scene, Princess Anna tells her father that she’s in love with Niki. “Papa, you may not realize it, but I’m desperate. I’m not responsible. I’m capable of anything. If you don’t let me have my lieutenant, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to marry an American!” (Har!)

Other stuff:

Yet another scene that I love. There are just so many!

Yet another scene that I love. There are just so many!

I don’t want to give away anything, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what was, to me, the best scene in the movie, in a movie fairly brimming with standout scenes. It’s when Princess Anna and Franzi come to face-to-face. You’ll have to see if for yourself, but let me just say that it’s got slapping, crying, laughing, some great snarky lines, and another musical number that’s guaranteed to leave you grinning.

In addition to The Smiling Lieutenant, TCM is showing a number of outstanding pre-Codes this month. One of the best is Don’t Bet on Women (1931), which I also saw for the first time at the TCM film festival last year. I couldn’t choose it as my pick, because I don’t have a copy of it – YET – and I really couldn’t do it justice without seeing it again. Be sure to check it out, though – it’s airing on January 12th. Other standouts are Mandalay (1934) and Design for Living (1933).

Speaking of Design for Living (1933), it’s the third of the three films in three years that teamed Miriam Hopkins with director Ernst Lubitsch. The Smiling Lieutenant was the first, followed by Trouble in Paradise (1932).

Elizabeth Patterson (front, right) went from lady-in-waiting to a princess to babysitter for the Ricardos!

Elizabeth Patterson (front, right) went from lady-in-waiting to a princess to babysitter for the Ricardos!

One of Princess Anna’s ladies in waiting was played by Elizabeth Patterson, who you might remember as Lucy Ricardo’s upstairs neighbor and babysitter Mrs. Trumbull, on I Love Lucy. Patterson made her film debut in 1926 at the age of 51. During her 35-year career in Hollywood, the never-married Patterson lived at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (which, incidentally, is ground zero for the TCM film festival). (Have I made enough references to the TCM film fest in this post?) She died at the age of 91, and is buried in her hometown of Savannah, Tennessee.

The Smiling Lieutenant was Paramount’s top grossing picture of the year, and the 10th highest of 1931.

The film was adapted from an operetta called A Waltz Dream, which was inspired by a short story called “The Prince Consort.” According to the TCM website, there are those who believe the short story was based on the real-life romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

If you like Ernst Lubitsch, or Miriam Hopkins, or musicals, or good movies in general, mark your calendar for January 28th and be sure to catch The Smiling Lieutenant. You. Will. Not. Be. Sorry.

pcc1I 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!

Pre-Code Crazy: When Ladies Meet (1933)

•December 4, 2015 • 9 Comments

The pickings for pre-Code in the month of December are not exactly abundant, if you know what I mean.

Aside from films that I’ve previously recommended – like Three on a Match – nothing really jumped out at me while reviewing my monthly TCM guide until my eyes fell upon When Ladies Meet (1933). This film, which was remade in 1941 with Joan Crawford and Greer Garson, stars Ann Harding, a woefully underrated actress of whom I’ve been quite fond for some time. I can’t really pinpoint why, though.  Of course, she can act, but that’s no rarity in Hollywood. And she’s attractive, but she’s no raving beauty. I haven’t even seen many of her movies – just five or six! – but that handful was enough to make me a fan. I think that it has something to do with the naturalness of her. And each one of her characters (at least, those I’ve seen) is so down-to-earth and cool – the kind of woman that you’d want to hang out with. The kind of woman you wish you were.

When Ladies Meet (1933), which also stars two more of my favorites, Robert Montgomery (hubba hubba) and the always-grand Myrna Loy, tells the story of a rather interesting quartet of personas. At the center of everything is Loy’s character, Mary Howard, a writer working on her third novel. Mary is sought after (and that’s putting it mildly) by the charming and handsome journalist Jimmie Lee (Montgomery). Mary, however, only has eyes for her older, distinguished book publisher, Rogers Woodruff (Frank Morgan), who is married to Clare (Harding). And to close the circle, Clare and Jimmie strike up a friendship after meeting at a swank dinner party. Fluttering along the fringes of this little troupe is Bridget Drake (Alice Brady, playing a character who is more than slightly reminiscent of the dotty mother she played in My Man Godfrey). Bridget is Mary’s good gal pal, who is also fond of Jimmie and acquainted with Rogers as well.

Harding and Montgomery. What more do you want in a movie?

Although Mary tries mightily – even indignantly, on occasion – to maintain that her relationship with Rogers is strictly business, neither Jimmie nor Bridget are buying what she’s selling. (We  aren’t, either.) Jimmie subtly points out the parallels between her real-life situation to the one she’s writing about in her novel, which concerns a love triangle between a woman, her lover, and the man’s oblivious wife. But Jimmie doesn’t stop at surly wisecracks and carefully crafted asides about Mary’s relationship with Rogers – he’s got something far more impactful in mind. When Bridget invites Mary and, at Mary’s request, Rogers to her country home for the weekend, Jimmie hatches a scheme to lure Rogers away from the house and then shows up at Bridget’s with none other than Clare, under the guise of taking a wrong turn on a short cut to New York. Not only that, but he keeps her identity under wraps, introducing her to the group as his distant cousin, “Mrs. Clara Clare.”

The calm before the storm.

Clare and Mary become fast friends, developing a mutual admiration society, neither knowing who the other really is. Mary tells Clare that she’s “so interesting and so contradictory. You’re so full of everything worthwhile – you simply vibrate with it.” But I’ll stop here –I’ll let discover for yourself the joy of eavesdropping on the riveting 15-minute exchange between Clare and Mary as they sit together by the fire, just girls together, smoking cigarettes and sharing secrets. And, you know, of course, that you’ve got a treat in store when Rogers returns to Bridget’s home to find his wife and his lover together.

Re-watching When Ladies Meet for this post reminded me of just how much I enjoy Ann Harding’s performances. I’m betting you will, too. And, incidentally, next to Harding’s Clare Woodruff, my favorite character in the film is Bridget, who as Mary described her, is a real scream. Here’re just a few of the nuggets she drops during the film:

“After all, why control yourself? Nobody else does. I know I’m a fool being so decent about Walter. Everybody else does exactly as they please, so why shouldn’t I? But I don’t. And the funny thing is that I actually don’t know whether it’s because I’m too good, or I haven’t got the nerve.”

These three.

These three.

“I tell you, this is an awfully hard age for a good woman to live in. I mean a woman who wants to have any fun. The old instincts of right and wrong merely hold you back. You’re neither one thing nor the other. You’re neither happy and bad, nor good and contented. You’re just discontentedly decent.”

“You know, if people would stop to investigate, nobody would ever marry anybody. There’s always insanity, or tuberculosis, or something.”

“I like you. I like you because most women who know anything always treat me as though I didn’t. And you don’t.”

“There’s no use trying to fool yourself. The only real unhappiness in life is losing a man. Of course, if he dies – well, that’s a different matter. If you lose him that way, then you know it isn’t your fault.”

“Death isn’t nature’s greatest mistake. Falling in love is. Of course, if we didn’t do that, all the misery of life would be cut right out of it. But my goodness, there wouldn’t be any fun, either. So what are you going to do about it?”

Don't miss it!

Don’t miss it!

When Ladies Meet is based on the hit play by Rachel Crothers, which ran 173 performances on Broadway, from October 1932 to March 1933. (The cast included Walter Abel as Jimmie Lee, Selena Royle as Clare, Frieda Inescort as Mary, and Spring Byington as Bridget – a role that she would reprise in the 1941 remake.) It’s pretty obvious that the film’s source material is a play – the entire production takes place in only three settings – but it’s not at all stagy or overly talky. Oh, don’t get me wrong – there’s a whole lot of talking, but not too much.

Like Baby Bear’s bed – it’s just right.

Don’t miss When Ladies Meet, airing on TCM on December 28th. While it’s not your typical pre-Code, it definitely contains some scandalous situations and naughty lines that’ll make you raise your brows and go ‘hmmm.’

And that’s always a good thing.

————-

Be sure to pop over to Speakeasy and check out Kristina’s pick for the month!

Day 30 of Noirvember: Tales from the Dark Side

•November 30, 2015 • 13 Comments

For my final contribution for Noirvember 2015, I offer up a tale as dark as any noir scenario – but this one was true: the rise and fall of Lynne Baggett.

Baggett was born in 1924 in Wichita Falls, Texas (also the birthplace of Broadway actor Tommy tune and professional soccer player Mia Hamm, as well as home to the “world’s smallest skyscraper”). Her father, David, was in the oil business and her mother, Ruth, worked as a stenographer. When Baggett was a youngster, her family moved about five hours away, to nearby Dalhart.

According to her studio bio, while on her way to do some shopping at a local department store in the early 1940s, Baggett was “discovered” by Solly Baiano, chief talent scout for Warner Brothers’, and wound up with a contract with the studio. In 1941, she appeared in a bit part in her first film, Manpower, starring Edward G. Robinson, George Raft and Marlene Dietrich.

Baggett spent the next several years in a series of uncredited roles including a chorus girl in Murder on the Waterfront (1943) and the oldest daughter of the title character in The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944), and in her first film noir feature, Mildred Pierce (1945), she’s the dark-haired waitress who gets into an argument in an early scene about stealing tips.  Off-screen, Baggett enjoyed a small measure of fame when she was voted the Triple A Girl (“adorable, amicable and amorous”) by the soldiers at Camp Haan in California, and named “Cobra Girl” by the Air Force boys at San Antonio’s Kelly Field. Also around this time, Baggett began dating director Jean Negulesco, who would later helm such hits as Johnny Belinda and How to Marry a Millionaire, as well as several noirs, including The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) and Road House (1948). Later, she moved on to fellow Warner Bros. contract player, George Tobias, who is perhaps best remembered by today’s audiences as Abner Kravitz in Bewitched, but who had prominent roles in several films noirs, including Nobody Lives Forever (1946) and The Set-Up (1949).

In 1946, Baggett landed a contract at Universal, and finally earned her first screen credit, appearing fifth-billed in an Abbott and Costello vehicle, The Time of Their Lives.  But her career soon took a backseat to her personal life when she became involved with Sam Spiegel, a producer 20 years her senior whom she’d met several years earlier during a screen test for The Stranger. Baggett didn’t get the role, but she obviously caught Spiegel’s eye – a couple of years later, he moved Baggett into his Hollywood home, and in April 1948, he married her. The nuptials were witnessed by actress Evelyn Keyes and her then-husband, director John Huston, a close friend of Spiegel’s who teamed with him to create the independent film production company, Horizon Pictures.  (The company would go on to produce such classics as The African Queen, Bridge Over the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia.)

A small role in the noirish period piece Lured (1947) was Baggett’s last role until 1950, when she returned to the screen for the biggest role of her career, in the outstanding film noir D.O.A. Here, she played a key role as Mrs. Philips, the shady widow of an import-export company head. Her performance was noted by several critics, including Bosley Crowther who wrote of her “helpfulness” to the film.  After D.O.A., Baggett was seen in the Burt Lancaster starrer, The Flame and the Arrow, followed by another foray into film noir with The Mob (1951), starring Broderick Crawford.

But The Mob would be her last film – just when it looked like her career was finally taking off, Baggett’s personal life began a downward spiral. First, in early 1951, while her husband was out of the country for pre-production of The African Queen, Baggett began an affair with prolific novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Irwin Shaw who, like Baggett, was very much married. The next year, Baggett and Spiegel separated following an incident during which she reportedly slashed all of her husband’s suits with a pair of scissors and destroyed six Picasso paintings. Things went from bad to worse when Baggett jumped into a brief affair with John Huston (who, by now, had gotten a divorce from Evelyn Keyes as well as split from his business venture with Spiegel). Later that year, Baggett filed for divorce against Spiegel in New York, charging adultery; Spiegel responded by seeking a divorce on the same grounds in Santa Monica, California.

But the worst was yet to come. In July 1954, Baggett was driving a car that she’d borrowed from her old friend George Tobias when she hit a station wagon filled with boys returning from summer camp.  Four of the boys were injured and one, nine-year-old Joel Watnick, was thrown from the vehicle and killed. Baggett left the scene after the crash and didn’t report it to police; two days later, she was arrested in Los Angeles after Tobias’s car was found in an auto repair shop with a damaged bumper, grill and frame. The police report stated that an unidentified woman had telephoned a tow truck company and asked that her car be picked up, stating that a truck had hit the vehicle and asking that “the repair work be done at once.”  After she was picked up by officers, according to one newspaper account, Baggett “wept copiously behind her sunglasses” – she was later charged with felony hit and run driving and felony manslaughter. During her trial, Baggett testified that she blacked out after the collision.

“I heard a loud crash and my head hit the steering wheel: everything seemed like a whirlpool. I tried to focus my eyes but I seemed blind. I had trouble breathing. Then I saw a little boy lying on the sidewalk and I managed to get out of the car,” Baggett said.  “I saw a woman’s face in my vision. I said, ‘Oh, my God. Somebody please call an ambulance.’ The next thing I knew I was in the car and the top of a hill was running at me. I was frozen to the wheel. The car stopped. I got out and started to run. I took a bus and went to a movie in Hollywood. It was about auto racing. . . .  When I finally got home, I got down on my knees and prayed – prayed that the little boy wasn’t dead.”

Although her attorney had declared he would “show that Miss Baggett did not intentionally leave the scene,” she was convicted by a jury of 11 women and one man of the hit-and-run charges but acquitted of the manslaughter charges. Baggett was sentenced to 60 days in county jail and placed on three years’ probation. The trial judge remarked that Baggett “lacked a feeling of human kindness and was concerned only with herself. I am convinced of her attempt to evade responsibility of the law in leaving the scene of the accident.”

In December 1954, while serving her term, Baggett spoke with UPI correspondent Aline Mosby, telling her, “I still don’t feel I belong here, but in a way, the judge did me a favor.  This is the end of a cycle of bad luck for me. The past three years I have been filled with anxiety because of my marital problems. I’ve been in another jail of sorts the past three years.” She also shared that she would spend New Year’s Day scrubbing floors and patching the uniforms of her fellow inmates.  “I received nice Christmas cards from the Bogarts, director Jean Negulesco and many people I did not know who were very understanding.” Baggett added that she had not heard from Sam Spiegel.

The month following her interview with Mosby, after serving 50 days of her sentence (which was reduced for “good behavior”), Baggett was released from jail, telling reporters that the experience had been “sort of my college. I learned so much about life.” Baggett shared that she was ready to return to the big screen “if anyone will take me.”

Sadly, it didn’t appear that anyone would. A couple of months later, after a nasty and costly battle, Baggett’s divorce from Spiegel was finalized – the actress was awarded an $85,000 settlement, but was ordered to pay $38,500 in attorney fees. Unable to find film work, Baggett seemed to fade from public view, except for a brief newspaper mention in May 1955, which reported that she was spotted riding her bicycle around Hollywood because “courts ruled that she can never again drive an automobile.” But she was back in the news in June 1959, when she took an overdose of sleeping pills. She called a telephone operator for help before losing consciousness, and police had to break down her locked door to rescue her.  Just two months later, she was in the news again, claiming that she’d fallen in her apartment and been trapped under the foldaway bed in her apartment for six days, unable to move or reach her telephone. After being hospitalized for malnutrition, Baggett was found to be partially paralyzed due to an addition to drugs and was diagnosed as a chronic depressed neurotic.

Just seven months later, in March 1960, Baggett was found dead in her bed by her nurse, Darlene Jones.  She was just 35 years old. She’d been released six weeks earlier from a private sanitarium, where she was under a doctor’s care for peripheral neuritis (inflammation of the nerves). Paralyzed from the knees down, Baggett had taken an overdose of barbiturates and had been dead for about 12 hours. Jones told police that Baggett had asked her not to come to her apartment until late the following day because “she wanted to get a lot of rest.” Her death was ruled accidental. Reportedly, while Sam Spiegel did not attend her funeral services, he paid the bill.

Lynn Baggett is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

———–

And that’s a wrap for Noirvember for another year! Thanks so much for coming along this shadowy journey with me, y’all – it’s been a gas!

Day 29 of Noirvember: My Favorite Noir

•November 30, 2015 • 11 Comments

If you know anything about me at all, you know that Double Indemnity is my favorite film noir, without question or hesitation. It’s the film that, when I wasn’t quite a teen, introduced me to the world of noir. I hadn’t yet heard of film noir at that tender age, but I knew that I was just as fascinated by Phyllis Diedrichson’s anklet – and all that it represented – as was Walter Neff, and I knew that whatever kind of movie this was, I wanted to see more.

Before my first viewing of Double Indemnity, I’d only seen Fred MacMurray as the affable dad in the popular television series My Three Sons. Still, I found it not at all odd to see him as a much younger, quite attractive man, or hear him calling Barbara Stanwyck “baby” in that staccato style he had, or take in his utterances of sexual innuendos that I was just a bit too young to fully understand. And later, with more experienced viewing, I began to feel that MacMurray was perfectly cast in the role, and was completely believeable in his portrayal of how quickly a man with standards and morals could transform into a calculated murderer.

As for MacMurray’s co-star, Barbara Stanwyck, I had enjoyed her films since I was barely three feet tall, it seems – movies like Stella Dallas and Ball of Fire and Meet John Doe made me an instant fan. But her performance in Double Indemnity was another thing altogether. From the moment she appeared in the film to greet MacMurray at the top of her stairs, I was hooked.

With these two stars in the lead, Edward G. Robinson’s performance in Double Indemnity was like the proverbial cherry on the sundae. His energetic, fast-talking portrayal of Barton Keyes was sheer perfection for me – he was at once shrewd, lovable, determined, fearsome, compassionate, and uncompromising.

Aside from the performers, I love Double Indemnity because of the dialogue. Even today, after countless viewings, I still smile throughout the exchange between Walter and Phyllis that involves the metaphor of a speeding motorcycle. And the movie contains countless stand-alone quotes that epitomize the essence of film noir, like the one in the opening scene, in which Walter confesses to murder: “I killed him for money. And for a woman. I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?”

Whenever I introduce a newcomer to the world of film noir, I tell them to watch Double Indemnity. It has everything – the shadowy scenes, the femme fatale, the classic dialogue, the murder, the double cross.

What more could you ask for?

Join me tomorrow for Day 30 – the last day (sniff!) of Noirvember!!

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 484 other followers