Pre-Code Crazy: Play-Girl (1932)

•December 7, 2016 • 2 Comments

This month’s TCM pre-Code offerings left me in a fair tizzy when it came to settling on my pick. There’re two first-rate Irene Dunne vehicles — The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933) and No Other Woman (1933). Manhattan Melodrama (1934), the Clark Gable starrer that was the last film seen by gangster John Dillinger. The Oscar-winning, unexpected hit It Happened One Night (1934). When Ladies Meet (1933), which features two of my favorite actresses, Myrna Loy and Ann Harding. And that great Ernst Lubitsch comedy, Design for Living (1933).

But I didn’t select any of these gems for my pre-Code Crazy pick this month. Instead, I went with a rather curious, little-known Loretta Young feature: Play-Girl (1932).

The opening of Play-Girl is deceiving. The credits are accompanied by a giddy, carnivalesque soundtrack, beneath a team of horses racing briskly around a track. What does it all mean?? You’ll find out.

We’re promptly introduced to the employees of the Mayfield Department Store, including the classy, ambitious Buster “Bus” Green (Loretta Young), who sells baby clothes but dreams of a future in the “ready-to-wear” field; Edna (Dorothy Burgess), whose shade-throwing and supreme bitchiness know no bounds; and the always loud but ever loyal Georgine (Winnie Lightner), Bus’s roommate, bosom pal, and self-appointed protector.

The salad days.

The salad days.

Although she wants to “make something of herself” and is completely devoid of matrimonial aspirations, Bus finds herself falling for Wally Dennis (Norman Foster), a fun-loving chap she meets on a blind double date. The two eventually get married and all is bliss – until Bus learns on her honeymoon that her husband earns a living by gambling. She’s none too pleased at the news, and plans to leave her groom, but Wally convinces her that he’ll walk the straight and narrow: “Gee, baby, I lied to you to get you, but I’ll do anything now to keep you and make you happy,” he pleads. “I guess work won’t hurt me.”

Try as he might, Wally isn’t able to stay away from gambling for long, but he finally turns over a new leaf when Bus finds herself in the family way. But all isn’t sweetness and light. After a misunderstanding, Bus kicks Wally to the curb and faces a future on her own that goes from bad, to really bad, to even worse.

Other Stuff:

Play-Girl features an odd little subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere. Bus, you see, is deathly afraid of childbirth — her mother died giving birth to her, and she views pregnancy as a potential death sentence. “Poor things,” she says of the women who shop in her infant clothing department. “Pretending they’re brave and happy. How can they be when they may die?” Bus’s phobia briefly surfaces again later when she tells Wally that she’s pregnant, and again at the film’s end when she’s ready to give birth. Other than that, though, there’s not much to the whole thing. It’s kinda weird.

Loretta Young’s co-star, Norman Foster, also played her husband in another pre-Code released in 1932, Weekend Marriage. He eventually left acting behind and became a successful film and TV director. Among the television shows he directed was The Loretta Young Show.

I'm no Lightner fan, but the scenes with these two were among the film's best!

I’m no Lightner fan, but the scenes with these two were among the film’s best!

For me, Play-Girl has but one drawback: Winnie Lightner. The alleged comic relief of this often-dark drama, Lightner chews up every scene she’s in, alternating between yelling her lines and mugging so hard you fully expect her to lose a tooth. While a little Lightner goes a long way, though, I can’t deny that she tosses off some of the film’s best lines. There’s one scene early on, where Georgine is washing out her undergarments and hangs a pair of bloomers to dry, only to see them blow out the window a few minutes later.

“There goes my last panties!” she grumbles.

“Well,” Bus asks, “Now what’re you gonna do?”

To which Georgine matter-of-factly responds: “Keep off of stepladders.” (Whoa!”)

Later in the film, Bus hosts a dinner party for her friends – the guests include Georgine and Edna, who can’t stop sniping at each other (much to our delight). After a spell, Georgine asks Bus if she can see the bedroom.

“You usually do,” Edna drawls.

“Yeah?” Georgine rejoins. “Well, you oughta know. I generally meet you coming out!”

It’s no Gone With the Wind, goodness knows, but Play-Girl serves up 60 minutes of time-worthy pre-Code goodness. Check it out December 15th on TCM.


And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for the month!


Day 30 of Noirvember: My Favorite Femmes

•November 30, 2016 • 8 Comments
Kathie Moffatt was so bad, she was good.

Kathie Moffatt was so bad, she was good.

On today, the last day of Noirvember 2016, I am pleased to shine a shadowy spotlight (is that even possible?) on my Top 10 Favorite Femmes. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll talk more about each of them, and why I love them so.

Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor):  The Killing (1956)

Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck): Double Indemnity (1944)

Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins): Gun Crazy (1949)

Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell): They Live By Night (1948)

Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo): Criss Cross (1949)

Lilly Stevens (Ida Lupino):  Road House (1948)

Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame): Sudden Fear (1952)

Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer): Out of the Past (1947)

Cora Smith (Lana Turner): The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford): Mildred Pierce (1945)

Who are your favorite film noir femmes?


Thanks for joining me on this year’s Noirvember celebration! It’s been a blast!

Day 29 of Noirvember: Trivia Tuesday

•November 29, 2016 • 2 Comments
Nearly Miss Venice.

Nearly Miss Venice.

I simply can’t get enough of movie trivia. I hope you can’t, either . . .

At the age of 17, Yvonne DeCarlo was chosen as first runner-up in the Miss Venice bathing beauty contest, and a short time later, she was hired for the chorus line at the Florentine Gardens in Hollywood. There, her dark, exotic looks caught the attention of a number of celebs, including bandleader Artie Shaw, who urged DeCarlo to see a career in film.

Four of the principal stars of Laura (1944) – Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, and Judith Anderson – all died within three years of each other.

For several years during his Hollywood career, Richard Conte worked under contract for the Hallmark company, supplying paintings for greeting cards. (As if I needed something else to make me love this guy!)

Ann Blyth was eating lunch at the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan when she caught the eye of playwright Lillian Hellman. She was eventually cast as Paul Lukas’s daughter in Hellman’s play, Watch on the Rhine. She was only 13 years old.

Leo G. Carroll. A Hitchcock staple.

Leo G. Carroll. A Hitchcock staple.

Leo G. Carroll played in more Alfred Hitchcock movies than any other actor – Rebecca, Suspicion, Spellbound, The Paradine Case, Strangers on a Train, and North by Northwest. The only person who can claim more appearances is Hitchcock himself, who turned in a cameo in each of his films since 1926.

Detective Story (1951) was based on a stage play that ran on Broadway for 581 performances. The production starred Ralph Bellamy in the role played by Kirk Douglas in the film. (Can you imagine?)

In The Lady in the Lake (1947), actress Ellay Mort is credited in the role Chrystal Kingsby, the name of the deceased dame of the film’s title. The credit is an inside joke – there is no such actress. The name is actually the phonetic pronunciation of the French phrase “elle est morte,” which means “she is dead.”

Coleen Gray, who had an affair with her Kansas City Confidential co-star John Payne, said that before she worked with him, she “didn’t find him appealing. He seemed to have a pout – I just thought he was a spoiled pretty boy.”

Jane Sterling Adriance.

Jane Sterling Adriance.

Born Jane Sterling Adriance, Jan Sterling dropped her last name out of deference to her father, a well-known New York advertising exec who disapproved of her acting aspirations. After a suggestion from actress Ruth Gordon, she also eliminated the “e” from her first name.

Mike Mazurki was born Mikhail Mazurwski in Tornopol, Austria, on December 25, 2909. He attended Manhattan College on a sports scholarship and graduated in the upper tenth of his class.

While under contract at Warner Bros. from 1939 to 1946, John Garfield was suspended more than a dozen times for refusing to work in what he considered to be inferior films.

Robert Ryan signed a contract with RKO in the early 1940s after he was spotted by a studio director while performing in the play Clash by Night, which ran on Broadway for less than two months (despite direction by Lee Strasberg and a cast that included Lee J. Cobb and Tallulah Bankhead).

Rumor has it that comedian Rodney Dangerfield appears as an extra in the racetrack fight scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956). I’ve yet to spot him, but I get a kick out of the idea.

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

Day 28 of Noirvember: Characters I Hate to Love – Bruno Antony

•November 28, 2016 • 2 Comments
I hate to love Bruno, but I do!

I hate to love Bruno, but I do!

Strangers on a Train (1951), masterfully directed by Alfred Hitchcock, tells the story of two men who meet by happenstance on a train, and wind up wholly intertwined in each other’s lives. Especially after one of them murders the wife of the other. The film contains one of my favorite noir characters, Bruno Antony, played to absolute perfection by Robert Walker. Bruno is a murderer and a sociopath, if not worse, and I know I should hate him for these qualities, but I just can’t. He’s completely riveting, full of intelligence, cunning, and a wicked sense of humor.

He’s also got some great lines – check out a few:

“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer.”

“Everyone has somebody that they want to put out of the way. Oh now surely, Madam, you’re not going to tell me that there hasn’t been a time that you didn’t want to dispose of someone. Your husband, for instance?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to shoot you, Mr. Haines. It might disturb Mother.”

“I have a theory that you should do everything before you die.”

Strangers airs on TCM on November 29th – don’t let this train pass you by!

And join me tomorrow for Day 29 of Noirvember!


Day 27 of Noirvember: The 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival — Even More Adventures in Paradise – Part 6

•November 27, 2016 • 6 Comments

Now that the last bite of macaroni and cheese has been devoured and every morsel of leftover bird has been recycled into turkey sandwiches, turkey hash or turkey pot pie, it’s time for another installment of the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Even More Adventures in Paradise! Today’s chapter, in honor of Noirvember, has a decided noir bent, surrounded by a cushion of comedy:  the interview of the director of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), Carl Reiner.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid stars Steve Martin as private detective Rigby Reardon, who’s hired by a gorgeous but mysterious dame (Rachel Ward) to find the killer of her father, a famous cheese maker. Set in the 1940s, the film is one long homage to the film noir era, and the action is cleverly intercut with clips from a number of classic noirs, including This Gun for Hire (1942), Johnny Eager (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), The Killers (1946), In a Lonely Place (1950), and White Heat (1950). Performers from these films that can be seen in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid include Humphrey Bogart (who plays Rigby’s mentor), James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Fred MacMurray, and Barbara Stanwyck,

After the screening of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Reiner was introduced and interviewed by actress Illeana Douglas, a regular at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (and the granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas). Douglas told the packed Chinese Theater audience that the “soundtrack of [her] childhood” was the album of the 2,000 Year-Old Man, a comedy skit created by Reiner and Mel Brooks.

Reiner during his interview with Illeana Douglas.

Reiner during his interview with Illeana Douglas.

“The name ‘Carl Reiner’ still defines what comedy is,” Douglas said.

Reiner, who was 94 at the time of the interview, received a rousing reception upon entering the theater, and to the audience’s delight, corrected Douglas about the number of Emmy Awards he’d received over the years – 12, not 9, he affirmed.

Reiner covered a wide variety of topics, including his family (“My wife raised three great kids and one great husband,” he said), and The Dick Van Dyke show, which he created – he called the show’s star “the single most talented man I’ve ever seen in my life [and] one of the dearest, sweetest human beings you’ll ever meet.” He also discussed Van Dyke’s “absolutely brilliant” performance in the film The Comic (1969), which Reiner co-wrote, co-produced, and directed; and another film he directed, Oh, God (1977), starring George Burns, about whom he relayed a hilarious story. Burns, at the time, was around 80 years old and was always seen with beautiful women on his arm, Reiner recalled, adding that he himself was 60 at the time.

Steve made a perfect noir character.

Steve made a perfect noir character.

“I asked him what I had to look forward to sexually, when I’m his age,” Reiner said. “And he said, ‘you ever try to put an oyster in a slot machine?’” (Har!)

Reiner also shared stories about Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, revealing that he watched film noir movies for six months to cull the dialogue and scenes – and even character names – that were used in the film.

“It was a pleasure. It was a labor of love,” Reiner said. “It was like doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle.”

The film was the last picture of designer Edith Head, who designed some 20 costumes for Steve Martin and Rachel Ward, and who Reiner characterized as a “dear woman.” The film also features a score by Miklos Rozaa, who composed the music for such classic noirs as The Killers (1946) and Brute Force (1947).

Meeting Carl Reiner.

Meeting Carl Reiner.

If you’ve never seen Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid – and my viewing it at the TCM Film Festival was my first time – you’re in for a treat. It’s not only funny, but it’s a real kick to see all of the scenes and characters from your film noir favorites. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.

One more thing – after his interview, Carl Reiner signed copies of his latest book, Why and When The Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born, in the lobby of the Chinese Theater. Because The Dick Van Dyke Show is LITERALLY my favorite television show of all time, there was no way that I was passing up the opportunity to get Reiner’s autograph. As it turned out, I got a chance to chat with him for a couple of seconds, and my pal Raquel, over at Out of the Past, surprised me by snapping a picture of me as he shook my hand! It was truly one of the highlights of the fest for me.

Stay tuned for more from the 2016 TCM Film Festival . . . and join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!

Day 26 of Noirvember: Don’t Snooze on The Big Sleep (1946)

•November 27, 2016 • 4 Comments

Tune in to TCM on November 27th for The Big Sleep (1946), starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, directed by Howard Hawks, and containing what wins the prize for one of noirs most convoluted plots.

Click below for one of my many favorite scenes from the film, featuring Bogart and Sonia Darrin. Darrin, incidentally, is still living as of this posting; click here and turn to page 6 for an article from The Dark Pages newsletter that shines the spotlight on this fascinating actress.

And join me tomorrow for Day 27 of Noirvember!


Day 25 of Noirvember: What’s in a Name?

•November 25, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Happy birthday, John Stevens.

Born John Daugherty Stephens on today’s date in 1919, Steve Brodie took his screen name from the real-life New York saloon keeper who claimed to have survived an 1886 leap into the East River from the Brooklyn Bridge. The name change helped to jumpstart his fledgling acting career.

“I couldn’t get arrested in New York. Then I got an idea: why not come up with a name that people will remember and possibly even want to exploit?” Brodie once explained. “The next time I went to a tryout, I told the fella taking names that I was Steve Brodie. ‘Are you any relation to the guy who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge?’  ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘He was my uncle. We’re both considered the black sheep of the family.’ And the following morning I received a phone call telling me I had the job.”

See Brodie in Crossfire (1947), Out of the Past (1947), Desperate (1947), Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and M (1951).

And join me tomorrow on Day 26 of Noirvember!