Happy Blogiversary to Me — 5.0!

•June 23, 2016 • 11 Comments

“My formula for living is quite simple: I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.”

I love this concept from Cary Grant – talk about words to live by! I’ve decided to adopt it as my own motto, and one of the ways I “occupy myself as best I can” is through this blog, which I started five years ago today. It’s become one of the great pleasures of my life, not just because it gives me an outlet for two of my favorite things – writing and classic movies – but also because it’s introduced me to a whole community of awesome people who I’d never otherwise gotten a chance to know.

As always at this time of the year, I’m tipping my hat to my friend, fellow blogger, and Dark Pages Senior Writer, Kristina over at Speakeasy, for giving me the nudge I needed to start my own blog. I’m also honored to offer my heartfelt appreciation to anyone who’s ever read anything I’ve ever written here. Y’all are the starch in my collar and the lace in my shoe. Not to mention the cream in my coffee.

To celebrate my five-year blogiversary, I’m continuing my annual tradition by leaving you with a film quote from one of my favorite actresses – this year’s is from the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck and my favorite film noir, Double Indemnity (1944). If you’ve never seen it, or it’s been a while since you’ve given it a re-watch, why not treat yourself to some shadowy, Stanwyckian deception today?

You only owe it to yourself, ya know.

“The tough part is all behind us. We just have to hold on now and not go soft inside. Stick close together the way we started out . . . I loved you, Walter, and I hated him. But I wasn’t going to do anything about it. Not until I met you. You planned the whole thing. I only wanted him dead. And nobody’s pulling out. We went into this together and we’re coming out at the end together. It’s straight down the line for both of us. Remember?” – Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck)

The Reel Infatuation Blogathon: Sgt. J.J. Sefton of Stalag 17

•June 16, 2016 • 10 Comments
Sgt. J.J. Sefton of Stalag 17. Hubba hubba!

Sgt. J.J. Sefton of Stalag 17. Hubba hubba!

When I learned that Silver Screenings and Font and Frock were hosting a blogathon about favorite silver screen crushes, I was on board like a sailor after a weekend pass. (Or something like that. You know what I mean.)

Why was I so excited about this particular event? Because several years ago, I wrote a book entitled Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir, and one of the chapters was devoted to actor William Holden. While I was immersing myself in Holden’s life and career, I totally found myself falling head over heels for him – I mean, I was completely obsessed! I started scouring eBay for pictures of the actor, watching every Holden movie that aired on TV, and tapping all of my resources for copies of every Holden film that I didn’t already own. It was kinda crazy – but fun! Like every fire, my intense fixation on William Holden eventually died down to a few burning embers and, finally, to cooling ash, but while it was still raging, boy, was it hot!

I’m taking a rare detour today from the worlds of pre-Code and film noir to shine the spotlight on the one William Holden character who most sparks my interest, lights my fuse, and just plain butters my biscuit: Sgt. J.J. Sefton in Stalag 17 (1953).

Sefton takes bets on his comrades' success.

Sefton takes bets on his comrades’ success.

This Billy Wilder-written-and-directed feature tells the story of a group of American airmen, held captive during WWII in a German prisoner of war camp located “somewhere on the Danube.” The film follows the day-to-day existence of the men housed in Barracks Number 4, their never-ending efforts to subvert their captors, and their growing suspicions that one of their number is an informant. And it just so happens that the suspected stoolie is none other than J.J. Sefton. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The film opens as the prisoners are finalizing an intricately planned scheme for two of the men to make an escape and head for neutral territory in Switzerland. They’ve got their parcel of necessities at the ready, they’ve reviewed and re-reviewed every step, and every one of their fellow prisoners is filled with the kind of hopeful confidence that is best known to those in the most desperate situations – every one, that is, except J.J. Sefton, who sardonically interjects: “Once in Switzerland, just give out with a big yodel so we’ll know you’re there. It’s a breeze,” he says, as he coolly lights his ever-present cigar. “Just one question: did you calculate the risk?”

Whaddya want? Stockings? Cigarettes? Wine? J.J. Sefton’s got it. (And if he ain’t got it, he can get it!)

It’s a perfect introduction to this character, as we witness, in just a few seconds, Sefton’s nonchalant cynicism and his obvious indifference for how he’s regarded by others. More keys to his persona are offered up when, after the men depart, Sefton actually takes bets on whether they will make it to their destination, with Sefton wagering packs of cigarettes that they won’t. In this scene, we learn even more about Sefton: he operates a kind of black market enterprise within the camp, making strategic trades with his German captives to secure all sorts of desired goodies, including cigars, silk stockings, even bottles of wine. And the operation is supervised by Sefton’s sidekick (and the only one of the prisoners who doesn’t dislike him), a young airman with a slight stutter who goes by the name of Cookie (Gil Stratton).

Now, after this brief introduction to Sefton, you might be wondering what on earth could I possibly find attractive about him – how could I have a crush on such a shamelessly self-absorbed gent? Well, sometimes in the movies, just as in real life, you have to look beneath the surface. (Although, speaking of surfaces, I must say that even with an unshaven face and slightly grubby t-shirt, Sefton is no slouch in the looks department, if you get my drift. Hubba hubba! Sorry – I digress.) For instance, not long after the table in the barracks is covered with loose cigarettes from the men betting in favor of their comrades’ success, a volley of automatic gunfire apprises them that, sadly, the two didn’t get very far. Sefton doesn’t speak, but just before he starts gathering up his winnings, he tosses away his cigar butt and stares briefly but stoically at the floor in a way that tells us he’s feeling a lot more than he’s letting on.

Nobody but J.J. Sefton would fry an egg in front of his fellow prisoners (and then offer them the empty shells as a consolation)! How can you not love this guy?

Don’t get me wrong, though – Sefton’s ooey, gooey soft center is seldom on display. Instead, more often than not, Sefton is either cheekily responding to the other men’s growing suspicions that he is an informant, or gaily enjoying such black market spoils as a bar of soap or a fresh egg, or boldly rationalizing his unique point of view:  “The first week I was in this joint, somebody stole my Red Cross package, my blanket, and my left shoe,” he says. “Well, since then, I’ve wised up. This ain’t no Salvation Army – this is everybody for himself. Dog eat dog.”

Sefton’s hard-nosed outlook aside, you can’t help but admire his intelligence and sense of enterprise, as evidenced by a “horse” race he operated every Saturday and Sunday night, charging the men cigarettes to place their bets. Sefton, we learn, was the “presiding steward, the chief handicapper, the starter, the judge, the breeder, and his own bookie.” And, we further learn, the “horses” were mice, who raced three laps around a track constructed from wood and cardboard. Sefton also ran a bar, featuring hooch made from old potato peels and string, and set up an “observatory” that allowed the men – for a fee, of course – to gaze into the nearby Russian women’s compound. Oh, he was a wily one; how can I not be charmed by such bold resourcefulness and boundless creativity?

In facing his accusers, Sefton is as cool as the other side of the pillow.

In facing his accusers, Sefton is as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Another selling point for Sefton? His bravado in the face of certain peril. Due to purely circumstantial evidence, the men of Barracks Number 4 finally become convinced beyond all doubt that Sefton is a stoolpigeon. (Heck, even I might have thought him guilty if I weren’t in the throes of a major crush!) First, Sefton is seen leaving the barracks with a bottle of wine, a carton of cigarettes, and a pair of silk stockings. Next thing you know, one of the German sergeants enters the barracks and knows exactly where to find a pilfered radio the men have hidden in a bucket. Things get even more hairy when a newly arrived American lieutenant is detained for his involvement in an incident that was only known to the men of Barracks 4. So when Sefton returns, he faces the silent, accusatory glares from 25 fellow POWs, each of whom is certain that he’s been selling their secrets to the Germans. But Sefton doesn’t miss a beat. “Hi. Too late for chow?” he asks casually, looking each man in the eye as he takes off his jacket. “What’s the matter – is my slip showing?” Later, all joviality aside, he tells the others straight out:  they’ve got the wrong guy – but when they refuse to believe him, and move in to administer a vicious beating, Setfton accepts his fate with steely, unfaltering resolve. And there’s something mighty sexy about a man who can take punishment without complaint. (Also, I don’t mind saying that even with a black eye and a busted cheek, Sefton’s still got the stuff!)

Good looks and a sharp mind — a winning combination in my book!

But Sefton’s silent acquiescence doesn’t equal to surrender – not by a long shot. He’s now determined to find out who the real informant is – and believe me when I tell you that his righteous fury is just as appealing as his good-humored insolence: “There’re two guys in this barracks that know I didn’t do it. Me and the guy that did do it,” Sefton tells the other prisoners. “And he better watch out, the guy that left me holding the stick.” It doesn’t take Sefton long, just by being quietly observant and using the old noodle,  to figure out which of his comrades is the real stoolie. In case you’ve never seen the movie, I won’t spoil it by revealing the man’s name, but I will tell you this: the scene where Sefton exposes the informant is absolutely riveting – not to mention completely swoon-worthy. He doesn’t just come right out and call the mole by name; first, he toys with him a bit, like a masochistic cat with a cowering mouse – and then he delivers a rapid-fire triple slap to the guy’s face that would’ve made Humphrey Bogart proud. I tell you, I can watch that scene over and over, and it’ll leave me breathless every time.

I need a hero. I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night...

I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night…

I guess I don’t have to tell you that this cynical, self-serving, irreverent gent turns out to be the hero of the film – and I’m here to tell you that Sgt. J.J. Sefton (we never do find out what those Js are for!) is one of the most fascinating heroes this side of Atticus Finch. Handsome and charming, intelligent and inventive, brave, shrewd and quick-witted – with a heaping helping of just-don’t-give-a-damn that makes him undeniably, indisputably desirable. Yowza!

But get your own fella, ladies. This one’s taken.

——————————

This post is part of the Reel Infatuation Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and Font and Frock. Click on the banner below and treat yourself by reading about the crushes of the other blogathon participants!

Reel Infatuation Banners

Pre-Code Crazy: Dinner at Eight (1933)

•June 5, 2016 • 8 Comments

As much as I love, and as many times as I’ve seen, Dinner at Eight (1933), I was astonished when I realized that I’d never written about it here. So when I was reviewing TCM’s pre-Code offerings for June and spied this first-rate feature on the list, I instantly knew that it would be my choice for this month’s Pre-Code Crazy. Even if you’re like me and you’ve seen it over and over (and over), you deserve to treat yourself to Dinner at Eight.

A whole lotta stuff goin’ on!

The title event serves as Ground Zero for the film’s various goings-on, and all of the guests invited to the dinner party have a connection with one or more of the others in some way. First, we have the host and hostess, Oliver and Millicent Jordan, played by Lionel Barrymore and Billie Burke. The owner of a shipping business who’s struggling to keep his company afloat (if you will), Oliver was in love years before with stage actress Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), who’s in town to raise some much-needed cash by selling the stock she owns in Oliver’s company. And Carlotta is staying at the Versailles Hotel, which happens to be the site of an illicit affair between Oliver’s (soon-to-be-wed-to-someone-else) daughter, Paula (Madge Evans), and washed-up, alcoholic actor Larry Renault (John Barrymore).

Larry only has eyes for Paula. (And the bottle.)

Larry only has eyes for Paula. (And the bottle.)

Oh, and back to Oliver – the stock in his company is being secretly purchased by local businessman Dan Packard (Wallace Beery), whose wife Kitty (Jean Harlow) is having an affair with the doctor, Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe), who is treating Oliver for a heart ailment. Flitting around the edges of this circle are Millicent’s snarky cousin Hattie (Louise Closser Hale), Dr. Talbot’s long-suffering wife, Lucy (Karen Morley), Larry’s hard-working agent, Max Kane (Lee Tracy), and Paula’s oblivious fiancé, Ernest (Phillips Holmes).

It’s so great!

Directed by George Cukor, Dinner at Eight seamlessly weaves together comedy and drama, and the film is fairly chock-full of memorable scenes. I love the scene where the Jordan’s cook, Mrs. Wendel (May Robson, in an hilarious performance), breaks some bad news to Millicent, which starts out with a bad tooth and ends up with the chauffeur in jail after stabbing the butler. And the one where Jean Harlow’s character turns on her sexy-baby charm to coax her husband into taking her to the Jordans’ dinner (“Dan-ny,” she coos in a singsong voice. “Kitty wants to go see all the great big lords and ladies in the big, booful house!”). And the scene where Carlotta pops up unexpectedly at the Jordan house, just hours before the dinner is to begin, asks Millicent for a whiskey and soda, kicks off her shoes, and shares her exhausting day. When the maid shows up with the makings of her drink, Carlotta allows her to pour a half a glass of whiskey before stopping her, and when the maid starts to add the soda, Carlotta pushes the bottle away: “Oh, my dear, wait a minute,” she says. “Don’t spoil it.” (A clip from the entire scene is below. You’re welcome!)

Speaking of great scenes, those scenes are brimming with some equally great lines. Here are some of my favorites:

“Politics? Ha! You couldn’t get into politics. You couldn’t get in anywhere. You couldn’t even get in the men’s room at the Astor!” – Kitty Packard (Jean Harlow)

“You’re a corpse, and you don’t know it. Go get yourself buried!” – Max Kane (Lee Tracy)

“One thing I shall always remember. The day you were 21, you asked me to marry you, Oliver. I thought it very sweet of you. You see I was 30-ish. I remember I went home and wept a little. They didn’t often ask me to marry them.” Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler)

"No wonder she died!"

“No wonder she died!”

“Who do you think you’re talking to, that first wife of yours out in Montana? That poor, mealy-faced thing with the flat chest that didn’t have nerve enough to talk up to you? Washing out your greasy overalls, and cooking and slaving in some lousy mining shack? No wonder she died! Well, you can’t get me that way – you’re not going to step on my face to get where you want to go, you big windbag!” Kitty Packard (Jean Harlow)

“I wouldn’t trust that man as far as I could throw a bull by the tail.” Fosdick (Harry Beresford)

“Ask that common little woman to my house? And that noisy, vulgar man? He smells Oklahoma.” Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke)

“If there’s one thing I know, it’s men. I ought to – it’s been my life work.” Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler)

“Ed hates anything that keeps him from going to the movies every night. I guess I’m what’s called a Garbo widow.” Hattie Loomis (Louise Closser Hale)

“Freddy Hope! My extra man, he’s got pneumonia. Well, of all the thoughtless, selfish – on the day of my dinner party, too!” Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke)

"They're invited for dinner, not mating." (Heh.)

“They’re invited for dinner, not mating.” (Heh.)

“I never could understand why it has to be just even, male and female. They’re invited for dinner – not for mating.” Hattie Loomis (Louise Closser Hale)

“The minute I see Oliver, I’m going back to my hotel, and pop myself into bed, and I’m not going to get up until tomorrow at noon. Thank goodness I don’t have to go to one of those dreadful dinners tonight.” Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler)

“Listen, you piece of scum, you. I’ve got a good notion to drop you right back where I picked you up in the checkroom of the Hottentot Club, or wherever the dirty joint was. And then you can go back to that sweet-smelling family of yours, back of the railroad tracks in Pasaic. And get this – if that sniveling, money-grubbing, whining old mother of yours comes fooling around my offices anymore, I’m going to give orders to have her thrown those 60 flights of stairs. So help me!” Dan Packard (Wallace Beery)

“At a time like this, you talk to me about a business thing, and feeling rotten. This is a nice time to say you’re feeling rotten. You come to me with your – and you, whimpering about Ernest. Some little lovers’ quarrel. I’m expected to listen to Ernest and business and headaches, when I’m half out of my mind! Do you know what’s happened to me? I’ve had the most ghastly day anybody ever had. No aspic for dinner. And Ricky in jail, and Gustave dying, for all I know. And a new butler tonight, and that Vance woman coming in. And havng to send for crabmeat. Crabmeat! And now, on top of everything else, the Ferncliffs aren’t coming to dinner. They call up at this hour, the miserable cockneys. They call up to say they’ve gone to Florida. Florida! Who can I get at this hour? Nobody. I’ve got eight people for dinner. Eight people isn’t a dinner. Who can I get? And you come to me with your idiotic little . . . I’m the one who ought to be in bed. I’m the one who’s in trouble. You don’t know what trouble is, either of you!” Millicent (Billie Burke)

Other stuff!

  • The screenplay was written by Frances Marion and Herman Mankiewicz, from a stage play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. The play opened at the Music Box Theater on October 22, 1932 and was a smash hit.
  • This was the first film produced by David O. Selznick for MGM.

    Talk about a tasty dish!

    Talk about a tasty dish!

  • The film introduces the cast in the opening credits by showing the major players as part of a formal place setting. Each performer’s face can be seen smack in the middle of a dinner plate.
  • Keep an eye out for some wacky editing in the very first scene. One second Billie Burke is facing the seated Lionel Barrymore, standing just an arms-length from him, and the next, she’s several feet away, facing in a different direction.
  • Carlotta Vance has a tiny dog that she sometimes carries around with her. Originally, the dog’s name was Mussollini, but the political climate of the day led to a change in his name to Tarzan. Watch for the scene where Carlotta shows up with the dog at the dinner party. If you listen carefully and watch Dressler’s lips, you can tell that the name “Tarzan” was dubbed in later.
  • Billie Burke, perhaps best known for portraying Glinda, the Good Witch, in The Wizard of Oz, was married to famed Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfield. Burke was played by Myrna Loy in The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Dinner at Eight was released a year after Ziegfeld’s death.
  • Marie Dressler underwent cancer surgery shortly before accepting the role of Carlotta Vance. She died from the disease in 1934, not long after the release of Dinner at Eight.

    Not one Oscar nomination? Come ON!

    Not one Oscar nomination? Come ON!

  • Joan Crawford was among the actresses considered for the part of Paula Jordan, and Clark Gable was one of the actors considered for the part of Dr. Wayne Talbot.
  • Dinner at Eight didn’t receive any Academy Award nominations, but it was number 85 on the American Film Institute list of the top 100 comedy movies of all time in American cinema, and it was named one of the 10 best films of 1933 by the New York Times and Film Daily.
  • Lee Tracy was filming another MGM picture, The Nuisance (1933), at the same time he was making this film. The Nuisance also featured actress Madge Evans, who played Lionel Barrymore’s daughter in Dinner at Eight.
  • Dinner at Eight was one of five films in which both Lionel and John Barrymore appeared. They didn’t share any scenes together in this feature, though.
  • In one scene, Dan Packard makes a crack about the age of Oliver’s office: “Say, who put up this building,” he asks. “Peter Stuyvesant?” Stuyvesant was the Director-General of the colony of New Netherland from 1647 to 1664, when it was renamed New York.

    Dinner at Eight. Like the aspic, it's too divine!

    Dinner at Eight. Like the aspic, it’s too divine!

  • Marie Dressler and Jean Harlow had quite a mutual admiration society after working on Dinner at Eight. Harlow said that being in the cast with Dressler was “a break for me. She’s one trouper I’d never try to steal a scene from. It’d be like trying to carry Italy against Mussolini.” And Marie Dressler said of Harlow, “Her performance as the wife of the hard-boiled, self-made politician played by Wallace Beery belongs in that limited category of things which may with reason be called rare. The plain truth is, she all but ran off with the show!”

Dinner at Eight airs on Monday, June 27th on TCM. If you’ve never seen it, mark your calendar and don’t miss it! You will not be sorry. And if you’ve seen it more times than you can count, give it another rewatch.

You only owe it to yourself.

(Thanks to Danny at Pre-Code.com, from whom I swiped some of these great images!)

——–

Don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for the month of June!

The Great #Villains2016 Blogathon: Day 6

•May 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Speakeasy

limesource 

It’s the final day of the Great Villain Blogathon 2016. Before you peruse today’s huge and diverse group of movie nasties, your hosts, Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin, and Kristina of Speakeasy want to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part, visited the participating blogs, and helped spread the word via #Villains2016. A blogathon is only as good as the people who join in, and you all made this a great 3rd year of the event!

The #Villains2016 main page has been updated to archive all 6 daily recaps so you can revisit the posts anytime. Bloggers who post after this, just let us know and you will be added to this recap.

Thanks again everybody, you were wicked good. See you next year!

pennysource: 

Now please enjoy today’s writing:

The Last Drive-in: True Crime Folie à deux: In Cold Blood (1967) & The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

Life Magazine NIghtmare RevistedMarvel Presents Salo: Eve…

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The Great #Villains2016 Blogathon: Day 5

•May 19, 2016 • 5 Comments

Hi, ho, villain-lovers! It’s Day 5 of The Great Villain Blogathon 2016, and we’re not slowing down!

Read on to check out today’s crop of baddies! And if you upload your post later this evening, don’t sweat it! We will include it in tomorrow’s recap, over at Speakeasy.

Enjoy!

Critica Retro takes a look at Professor Fate in The Great Race.

Cinema Gadfly gives us the lowdown on Count Zaroff in The Most Dangerous Game.

SS2016Villainb

Old Hollywood Films examines Boris Lermontov in The Red Shoes.

SS2016Villaind

Once Upon a Screen serves up Wile E. Coyote.

SS2016Villaine

Cinema Versus peeks inside the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

See you tomorrow!!

 

The Great #Villains2016 Blogathon: Day 4

•May 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Silver Screenings

Raymond Burr in Pitfall

We’re having a dastardly good time here at the Great Villain Blogathon. What’s not to love about the impressive variety of films and villains?

Below are today’s posts. If you upload your post later this evening, never fear! We will include it in tomorrow’s recap, over at Shadows and Satin.

Enjoy!

zzz

The Wonderful World of Cinema looks at desperate escapee Glenn Griffin (Humphrey Bogart) in The Desperate Hours (1957).

Fright Night_9a

Cinematic Catharsis analyzes the charismatic vampire Jerry Dandrige in Fright Night(1985).

without-a-clue

Yes, I Know examines The Cinematic Life and Times of Professor James Moriarty.

onesime-vs-onesime-1912-image-25

Movies Silently explores the slightly twisted French surrealism of Onésime vs. Onésime (1912).

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Micro-Brewed Reviews re-examines George Kennedy’s performance in the manly Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974).

3+murders+2

Film Noir Archive ponders the nature of evil in Born to Kill (1947).

alien-facehugger

Plot and Theme provides a very different view of the Xenomorph in Alien (1979).

Raymond Burr in Pitfall

Christina Wehner issues a warning about Raymond Burr’s oozing…

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The Great #Villains2016 Blogathon: Day 3

•May 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment
 
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