The Great Villain Blogathon 2017 Starts Tuesday!

•April 21, 2017 • 3 Comments

It’s not too late to get on board the Villain Train!!

Silver Screenings

Mwahaha!

The villains are back in town starting next Tuesday (April 25). If you haven’t signed up, it’s not too late to join!

Each evening, your three co-hosts – Shadows & Satin, Speakeasy and Silver Screenings – will take turns posting the day’s madcap adventures.

The list of participants can be found at Speakeasy HERE. All related links will be added to this original announcement post for handy reference and archiving.

See you next week!

Image: Villains Wikia

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List o’ the Week: Movies That Make Me Cry

•April 14, 2017 • 24 Comments

There aren’t too many things in life that are as satisfying as having a good cry while watching a movie. In fact, when a movie makes me cry, it’s elevated into an entire different category in my mind and heart.

In celebration of these heart-tugging, soul-wrenching features, today’s List o’ the Week is devoted to the top 12 movies that make me cry.

In order to make my list, it had to be a film that I’ve seen numerous times and that makes me cry every single time I see it, and I had to be able to identify the precise point in the film that the waterworks begin. This stringent criteria certainly narrowed my list, as it eliminated any films – like Brief Encounter (1945), for instance – that left me drowning in salty tears, but that I’ve only seen once. (To be honest, I don’t even WANT to see that one again. Yeesh.) Similarly, there are a number of films that make me cry, like I Remember Mama (1948), Brian’s Song (1971), and the 1979 documentary Best Boy, but I can’t exactly identify when the tears begin. In any event, here goes!

1. Imitation of Life (1959)

Always the first film that comes to mind when I think of films that make me cry. I start crying during Annie’s death scene. By the time Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) makes her way through the crowd (“But it’s my MOTHER!!!”), I’m wailing. The blubbering doesn’t stop until the credits roll.

Imitation of Life (1959)

2. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Overall, The Wizard of Oz is a fairly upbeat musical, and it’s been a favorite of my family’s since I was a child. But the tears start welling every time Judy Garland’s Dorothy is saying goodbye to her pals in Oz and whispers to the Scarecrow that she’s going to miss him most of all.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

3. Gone With the Wind (1939)

Mammy and Melanie. Climbing the shadowy stairs to the room where Capt. Butler has been locked for three days with the corpse of his beloved daughter, Bonnie Blue. Hysterics.

Gone With the Wind (1939)

4. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

When Fredric March’s character arrives home from war, and he silently embraces his wife for the first time, their daughter (Teresa Wright) looks on, and sheds a tear. Me, too.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

5. Wuthering Heights (1939)

I wait with great anticipation for the part of the movie where Lawrence Olivier’s Heathcliff stands at the side of the dying Cathy’s bed and implores her to haunt him after she passes to the Great Beyond. (“Take any form, drive me mad, only do not leave me here in this dark alone where I cannot find you!”) Boo. And also, hoo.

Wuthering Heights (1939)

6. A Little Princess (1939)

I’ve loved this movie for many, many (many) years. And every time I’ve seen it in all those many years, I cry right along with Shirley Temple when first she finds her long-lost father, then realizes that he doesn’t recognize her, and finally gets through to him and enjoys a joyful reunion. So satisfying.

A Little Princess (1939)

7. Alice Adams (1935)

Alice (Katharine Hepburn) has a disastrous experience at a dance given by a wealthy school chum – her ignominious evening includes realizing that her hand-picked violets have wilted, dancing with the most undesirable guest at the party, and having her brother discovered shooting dice with a group of black (gasp!) musicians. She ends the evening crying in her bedroom, directing her sobs toward the rain outside so no one can hear. And I’m crying right along with her.

Alice Adams (1935)

8. All This, and Heaven Too (1940)

I save my tears in this feature for the last few minutes when, after telling her life story to a classroom full of snarky, judgmental teenage girls, Mme. Deluzy-Desportes (Bette Davis) is smothered by the heartfelt apologies of those same girls, who feel like shit once they realize how much their new teacher has suffered.

All This, and Heaven Too (1940)

9. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

I start welling up right about the time George Bailey (the wonderful James Stewart) starts praying to God to let him live again. The tears don’t stop until Zuzu informs us that “every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

It’s a Wonderful Life (1939)

10. The Miracle Worker (1962)

Helen Keller’s teacher, Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft), spends the entire movie trying to get her charge to grasp the connection between words and the formations she’s making with her fingers. When the light bulb goes off and it finally becomes clear to Helen that she is learning a language, my tears are flowing as freely as the water that triggers her understanding.

The Miracle Worker (1962)

11. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

The part that always gets me is after Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) fails to earn a not guilty verdict for his obviously not guilty client, a black man accused of attacking a white woman. As Atticus gathers his paperwork and prepares to leave the courtroom, the black observers in the balcony all rise to their feet in silent homage. The local preacher gently nudges Atticus’s daughter, Scout, telling her to stand up as well. “Your father’s passing,” he says. (I swear, y’all – I am tearing up just WRITING about this scene. Whew.).

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

12. The China Syndrome (1979)

I just saw this movie again at the 2017 TCM Film Festival (more on that to come!), so its inclusion on this list was an absolute must. If you’ve never seen this one and you plan to, I’m issuing an official spoiler alert here. In this thriller about an accident at a nuclear plant, plant supervisor Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon) works with local TV reporter Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) in an effort to expose the ensuing cover-up. For his troubles, he’s shot to death, and at the film’s end, Kimberly Wells struggles to reign in her emotions in order to broadcast the story. She’s ultimately successful in her determination to hold back the tears. I, on the other hand, am not.

The China Syndrome (1979)

And that’s my list! What about you? What movies make you cry?

The 2017 TCM Film Festival: Revisiting Adventures in Paradise — Part 1

•April 13, 2017 • 13 Comments

It was the best of times, y’all.

Again.

On April 4-9, 2017, I attended my fifth Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. Held in the heart of Hollywood, California, this four-day event features wall-to-wall movies, celebrity sightings, fascinating presentations and interviews, and friends, food and fun! (Not to mention my latest discovery – the basil gimlet. Yum.)

As I did with last year’s fest, I plan to cover the 2017 event year-round, because I just don’t want to stop talking about it! So strap yourself in and come on along for the ride!

This time around, I traveled to L.A. two days before the festival started, in the hopes of getting in some sightseeing. I did a tour of Warner Bros. Studios and movie star homes, but by far my favorite “extra” was the Hollywood Museum. Located in the old Max Factor building near Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Avenue (and right next door to my favorite Hollywood eatery, Mel’s Diner), the Hollywood Museum features three floors jam-packed with all sorts of memorabilia, from the silent era to the present. But there was only one reason for my visit this year: the museum’s exhibit on Jean Harlow. Not only is Harlow one of my very favorite actresses, but I’d heard from several reliable sources that the Harlow display was not to be missed.

And, boy, were they right!

My pictures can’t begin to capture the wondrousness of seeing so many personal Harlow effects – it was like stepping back in time! – but I hope you’ll get some idea.

This is Harlow’s baby picture and her silver diaper pins.

Harlow’s “Dolly Dingle” doll.

If you look closely, you can see the embroidered footstool and the green cigarette holder on the right in the accompanying photos.

These rattan chairs were part of the furnishings in Harlow’s last house, on North Palm Drive in Beverly Hills.

This was part of a mural commissioned by Harlow’s first husband, Paul Bern, for Bern’s German hunting lodge-style home in a remote canyon in Beverly Hills. The mural depicts Harlow’s ascension to the “inner circle” at MGM. Harlow is in the middle; to her left are Irving Thalberg (standing), Joan Crawford, and Norma Shearer. Others in the painting include David O. Selznick, Ben Lyon, Bebe Daniels, John Gilbert, and writer Gene Markey.

Harlow’s charm bracelet.

This is the actual closet door from Harlow’s home on Club View Drive.

Harlow wore this dress in one of my favorite films, Bombshell (1993).

This beautiful 1932 Packard Sport Phaeton was purchased by the actress in April 1933. She kept it until her death.

A complete setting of Harlow’s silverware (with an ‘H’ on the handle), some of her embroidered or hem-stitched handkerchiefs, and tissue on which she blotted her lipstick.

A letter on Harlow’s personal stationery.

In May 1937, Harlow attended a boxing match and carried this navy blue handkerchief, which can be seen in the photo. It was her last public appearance.

After Harlow’s death in June 1937, her mother, Jean Bello, commissioned this portrait of her, entitled ‘Farewell to Earth.’ According to Mrs. Bello, when her daughter said goodbye, she never waved as most people do. Instead, she “flung her arm over her head in a sort of gallant salute.” The painting remained in Mrs. Bello’s possession until she died in 1958. At that time, it was passed on to her longtime friend, Ruth Hamp, but when Mrs. Hamp died, the painting all but disappeared, and remained missing for more than 50 years. In 2016, the painting resurfaced in a private collection in Missouri and was returned to Hollywood.

If you have a chance to take in this breathtaking exhibit, don’t miss it!

(You only owe it to yourself.)

And stay tuned for more from the 2017 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

 

 

Discovering Tallulah: The Cheat (1931)

•March 14, 2017 • 2 Comments

When I think of my favorite pre-Code actresses, I must admit that Tallulah Bankhead is not one of the first names that springs to mind. In fact, I usually don’t think of her at all – and that’s a real shame. She only appeared in 24 films during her career, and her acting had a tendency to be a bit stagy, but she possessed a unique beauty and was absolutely fascinating to watch, as she demonstrated in one of her best pre-Codes, The Cheat (1931).

In this rather seedy feature, Bankhead stars as Elsa Carlyle, a young socialite who, by her own description, is wicked, selfish, and spoiled.”

Her favorite pastime seems to be gambling away money that she can ill afford – even when we first meet her at a Long Island yacht club party, she’s playing some sort of game for pennies with a man seated next to her at dinner. Elsa is married to Jeffrey (Harvey Stephens), an ambitious – if slightly boring – businessman who worships the ground on which Elsa treads: “I didn’t begin to live until I met that girl,” he tells a friend. “And there’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t do for her.” In fact, Jeffrey’s not Elsa’s only admirer – another partygoer admits that he doesn’t “care much for [females] as a race, but she’s pretty nice.”

Elsa discovers Livingstone’s doll collection.

In the area of gambling, however, Elsa is not only a borderline addict, but she frequently operates impulsively – a disastrous combination. On the night of the yacht club shindig, while playing a game of blackjack, she overhears a conversation between two guests, during which one of the men says that a tiger brought him “luck.” The mere mention of the word seems to be a sign to Elsa, and she promptly bets – and just as quickly loses – a cool $5,000. Then, just minutes later, in a reckless double-or-nothing bet, she increases her debt to $10,000. Meanwhile, as a “climax to the evening’s indiscretions,” and in an effort to briefly escape her mounting financial woes, Elsa accepts an invitation from one Hardy Livingstone (actor-turned-director Irving Pichel) to visit to his nearby estate. It turns out that Livingstone is a local resident who’s recently returned from three years in the Orient. His trip apparently made quite an impression on him – he has Asian houseboys, Oriental furnishings and décor, serves Japanese wine, and has a room he calls his “Holy of Holies,” which features a life-size statue of the Japanese God of Destruction. He also has a cabinet he refers to as his “Gallery of Ghosts,” filled with elaborately clad dolls who represent the women of his past. Each doll stands atop a wooden block, onto which Livingstone has burned a mysterious image. “That’s my crest. It’s a Japanese character,” he explains. “I brand all my belongings with it. It means ‘I possess.’” (Bom, bom, BOM!!!!)

Elsa should’ve said ‘no’ to this loan.

It doesn’t take long to pick up on the creep factor that surrounds Livingstone like a cloud. We become even more wary of his motives (even if Elsa seems blind to them) when he offers Elsa a jewel-encrusted gown that was owned by a Siamese princess – “You must wear it for me,” he says. “Let me see you in it.” Although Elsa initially refuses the gift, she later agrees to borrow it to wear to a lavish, Orient-themed ball to be held in Livingstone’s mansion. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

In a desperate effort to raise the $10,000 to pay her gambling debt, and at the same time keep her idealistic spouse from finding out, Elsa uses money raised through a local charity to buy stock she’s been assured is a sure thing. Unfortunately, her luck continues to sink faster than a paper boat in a storm drain – the stock turns out to be a bust and she’s now $20,000 in the hole.

What’s Elsa doing with a gun in her hand? See The Cheat and find out!

Fast forward to the ball; when Livingstone learns of Elsa’s monetary misfortune, he generously offers to give her $10,000 – but for a price. “Nobody will know,” Livingstone assures her. “I don’t ask much in return. Only that you be a little nicer to me. And maybe, maybe some evening soon, you’ll come to see me.” And if you don’t know what THAT means, baby, you just haven’t seen enough pre-Codes!

Speaking of seeing pre-Codes, make sure that this is one you don’t miss. Tallulah Bankhead is riveting, the direction by legendary Broadway producer George Abbott sails along at a proper clip, and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Trust me – it’ll make you remember Tallulah next time.

Pre-Code Crazy: Rain (1932)

•March 7, 2017 • 6 Comments

Our first glimpse of Miss Sadie Thompson.

TCM is not exactly overflowing with pre-Code options during the month of March, which initially made for a bit of a challenge for me to make my Pre-Code Crazy selection. But when I saw Rain (1932) listed in my TCM Now Playing Guide, I knew my decision-making struggles were over.

What’s the story?

Based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham, Rain tells the story of Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford), a prostitute who is stranded on the South Pacific island of Pago Pago due to a possible cholera outbreak on the boat on which she was travelling. Also on the boat is a zealous missionary, Alfred Davidson (Walter Huston) and his perpetual stick-up-her-rear wife (the always outstanding Beulah Bondi).

Our introduction to Sadie is rather breathtaking. We first see a solider forcefully exit a room, followed by a flying object that was obviously tossed at said soldier. We then see the separate expressions on the faces of four men outside the room, each infused with a mixture of astonishment, appreciation, and something approaching unbridled lust. Seconds later, we see what they see –beginning with a pair of bejeweled hands, white heels with bows, and shapely legs clad in fishnet stockings, and ending with the heavily made-up face of Sadie Thompson, with a cigarette dangling insolently from one corner of her red lips. (At least, I imagine that they’re red.)

All the fellas love Sadie.

At first glance, Sadie is fun-loving and jovial, inviting a few marines, a naval officer, and the owner of the hotel into her room for a couple of belts of booze and a spin around the dance floor. She even takes a shine to one of the marines, whom she dubs “Handsome” (William Gargan). But Sadie soon shows that she’s no pushover – when the missionary, Davidson, tries to put an end to the festivities, he’s physically removed from the room, and Sadie doesn’t shrink from showing her disdain: “When you bust into a lady’s room, you oughta get someone to introduce you, fella!”

Unfortunately for Sadie, the incident seems to whip Davidson into an obsessive frenzy, determined to reform Sadie and make her “atone for her life.” And chief on his list of atonement strategies is having Sadie deported from the island and forced to return to her San Francisco home, where she’s in trouble with the law. And for a while, it appears that Davidson’s unceasing efforts are successful.

For a while.

Crawford was touching in her scenes with William Gargan.

Rain isn’t generally included in discussions of Joan Crawford’s Greatest Hits, but it deserves a lot more attention than it receives. It’s certainly not your typical pre-Code, that’s for sure, but it’s never boring, and it’s definitely worth a look. And even though Joan Crawford reportedly labeled the film as her least favorite (“Every actress is entitled to a few mistakes,” she once said, “and that was one of mine.”), for my money, she’s the primary reason for checking it out. She manages to effectively bring to life a woman who’s at once fearless and hard as granite, yet sensitive and vulnerable, with a good heart. It’s a fascinating performance.

Anything else?

With Jeanne Eagles in the role of Sadie Thompson, Rain opened on Broadway in November 1922 and closed the following year after more than 250 performances. A successful revival, also starring Eagles, played in 1924, and Tallulah Bankhead played the Thompson role in a 1935 revival. (Boy, would I love to have seen that!) On screen, Rain was first filmed in 1928, titled Miss Sadie Thompson, and starring Gloria Swanson in the title role and Lionel Barrymore as Davidson. Miss Sadie Thompson was filmed again in 1953, starring Rita Hayworth.

Be sure to read about these three! Whatta story!

The role of “Handsome” was originally to be played by Paul Kelly, who’d recently been released from San Quentin after a 25-month stint for manslaughter. He was convicted following the beating death of fellow actor Ray Raymond, who had accused Kelly of playing footsie with his wife, actress Dorothy Mackaye. (Read more about this fascinating story here.) When United Artists chief Joseph Schenck got wind of the director’s casting choice, he put the kibosh on the plan and called for Kelly’s dismissal.

Joan Crawford wore the same checked dress throughout the entire movie. (This ain’t no Letty Lynton.)

To prepare for her performance, Crawford reportedly hung out with real-life prostitutes in San Diego so that she could study their behavior, attitudes, and lifestyle.

When can I see it?

Get out your umbrellas and catch Rain on March 31st on TCM. It’s worth your time.

And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to read about the pre-Code gem my pal Kristina is recommending for this month!

Announcing The Great Villain Blogathon 2017!

•February 24, 2017 • 2 Comments

Here we go again, y’all!! Join us!

Speakeasy

Villains 2017Time once again to face the evil with the annual Big Bad Blogathon celebrating cinema’s worst villains.

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Flawed Gents of Pre-Code: The Fellas of Night Nurse (1931)

•February 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment
Two of our flawed gents in a fight to the finish! (And I do mean finish!)

Two of our flawed gents in a fight to the finish! (And I do mean finish!)

In my ongoing look at the less-than-stellar fellas who populate the world of pre-Code, I’m shining the spotlight today on Warner’s 1931 film Night Nurse. This film stars the always-fabulous Barbara Stanwyck as the title caregiver, Laura Hart, who finds herself battling a variety of contemptible characters in her quest to save the lives of the two young girls in her charge.  There are a number of do-gooders in this feature, including Laura’s pal and fellow nurse Maloney (Joan Blondell) and Dr. Bell (Charles Winninger), chief of staff of the hospital where Laura receives her training. But there’s also a quartet of not-so-upstanding citizens – two doctors, a chauffeur, and a bootlegger – and it’s these flawed gents who are the focus of today’s post.

Eagan (Edward Nugent)

In one scene, this hospital intern is referred to as a “baby frightener.” It’s a rib-tickling visual that’s not far from the truth – Eagan’s sole purpose in life appears to be centered on serving as a constant annoyance to those around him. He’s rarely seen extending gentle treatment to patients or perfecting his bedside manner; instead, he spends his time engaged in such acts as grumbling when he’s required to give a hand to a passed-out gunshot victim (he’d rather read a magazine), offering inappropriate remarks to the females on the staff, and spooking the nurses by hiding full-size skeletons in their beds. It’s no wonder that, shortly after Laura’s first encounter with Eagan, Maloney warns her, “Take my advice and keep away from interns. They’re like cancer. The disease is known, but not the cure.”

Look at Stanwyck's face. It tells you all you need to know about Nick the chauffeur.

Look at Stanwyck’s face. It tells you all you need to know about Nick the chauffeur.

Nick (Clark Gable)

Shortly after receiving her assignment to serve as night nurse to young sisters Desney and Nanny Ritchey, Laura makes three key discoveries. First, their mother (Charlotte Merriam) spends more time getting drunk than she does caring for her daughters. Second, the little girls are being systematically starved to death. And third, the family chauffeur, Nick, is not a nice guy. When Laura first meets Nick, he appears to be a knight in shining armor; as she’s struggling to fight off the drunken advances of a partygoer at the Ritchey house, Nick steps in and knocks the guy cold with a one-two punch. But Laura can barely finish expressing her gratitude before Nick is manhandling her as well, curtly ordering her around and preventing her from making a phone call by socking her on the jaw. Before long, it becomes clear that Nick is not only “driving Mrs. Ritchey” (if you know what I mean), but he also plans to marry the constantly inebriated matriarch – for reasons that are far more sinister than they first appear.

Dr. Milton Ranger (Ralf Harolde)

As it turns out, the family physician, Dr. Milton Ranger, is the dastardly puppeteer pulling the strings in an effort to hasten the demise of the Ritchey girls and, with Nick, gain control of their trust fund. Ranger, whose facial tics and nose twitches indicate that he’s on some kind of drugs, verbally attacks Laura when she appeals to him for help with the girls. “Mind your own business,” he tells her, insisting that there is no cause for alarm regarding the children’s health. “You talk too much. You’ve picked up a lot of half-baked medical knowledge around the hospital. All nurses do. But I wouldn’t air it quite so freely, or you’ll talk yourself right out of your profession in short order.”

Mortie looks harmless (and his name is certainly harmless), but trust me. He's not harmless.

Mortie looks harmless (and his name is certainly harmless), but trust me. He’s not harmless.

Mortie (Ben Lyon)

Mortie is a sort of “honorable mention” in this parade of imperfect lads. Laura is introduced to him when he staggers into the hospital, the victim of a gunshot wound. When she bends the rules by recording the injury as a routine cut, Mortie proves that he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t forget a favor – no matter what he needs to do to repay it. A bootlegger by trade, Mortie first comes to Laura’s aid when he shows up at the Ritchey house to deliver an order of booze. When he learns that Laura wants to try to revive one of the girls by bathing her in a tub of milk, he volunteers his services and burglarizes a local delicatessen to snag the much-needed dairy product. And later, after Nick physically assaults not only Laura, but the family housekeeper and Dr. Bell, too, Mortie pops up in the nick of time (no pun intended) to save the day. He makes it clear that he’s carrying a gun, forcing Nick to exit the premises, never to be seen again. Mortie’s specific role in Nick’s permanent departure is never quite spelled out, but it’s clear that he was a chief contributor, if you get my drift. (But it was for a good cause!)

And that’s the flawed foursome of fellas who make their home in the world of Night Nurse. Directed by William Wellman, it’s one of my favorites from the pre-Code era, and these no-good gents certainly add to its appeal. If you’ve never seen it, check it out – you’re in for a real treat.

And you only owe it to yourself.