Pre-Code Crazy: Red Headed Woman (1932)

•August 3, 2016 • 4 Comments

Red-Headed Woman is one of my very favorite pre-Codes, starring one of my very favorite actresses, Jean Harlow.

So why haven’t I devoted a post to this film before now? Beats the heck outta me! But better late than really, really late, I always say.

Red-Headed Woman tells the story of Lil Andrews (Harlow), a working gal who’s got more on her mind than dictation, if you know what I mean. Specifically, her mind is focused on her very-much-married boss, Bill Legendre (Chester Morris), who, like most of the men in this film, is unable to resist Lil’s unique charms. Ultimately, Lil manages to seduce Bill, break up his happy union, get him to marry her, make her way up the local social ladder (or, at least the first few rungs), have a couple of affairs, and even commit attempted murder – all in less than 80 minutes.

But it’s not the crazy, twisty-turny, action-packed plot that made me fall in love with Red-Headed Woman – although that’s certainly enough! Instead, it’s the characters populating the film that make this one of those movies I can watch over and over (and over!) again. And I do!

Here’s what I mean:

Lil learns that Bill is a leg man.

Lil learns that Bill is a leg man.

Lil Andrews Legendre (Jean Harlow)

We’re introduced to Lil through a series of vignettes at the very start of the film, and they provide some valuable insight into her persona. In one scene, she’s in a dressmaker’s shop, trying on a frock. She strikes a pose, asking the saleswoman if she can see through her dress. When the woman reluctantly replies in the affirmative, Lil flashes a grin. “I’ll wear it,” she says. And in another scene, we’re treated only to the sight of Lil’s gams as she cuts a photo from a newspaper. Turns out it’s a picture of her boss, which she promptly fits into a small frame on her garter belt. “Well, it’ll get me more there than it will hanging on the wall,” she philosophizes.

Bill Legendre (Chester Morris)

As one character said, Bill Legendre was “crazy” about his wife. But as Lil herself rejoined, “He’s a man isn’t he?” And, boy, does Bill prove her right. One minute, he’s off-handedly attempting to dismiss Lil from his house; the next, he’s agreeing to let her help him with his mail; and the next – well, let’s just say that he’s not exactly having Lil file his papers. One look at Lil’s legs and Bill seems to lose all of his senses – he can barely even finish a sentence. And, later, when he tells Lil, “I love my wife! I’ve never loved anyone else!” – he seems to be trying to convince himself as much as he is Lil.

Sally was always there when Lil needed a listening ear.

Sally was always there when Lil needed a listening ear.

Sally (Una Merkel)

Sally was Lil’s ace boon coon, her BFF, her sister from another mister. Although Sally never ceased to be shocked at Lil’s antics, she always had Lil’s back and, like a true friend, she never hesitated to tell Lil when she was crossing the line. Like the time Lil swiped a stack of mail from the desk of Bill Legendre’s secretary so she could take it to Bill’s house. Sally was right by her side all the way, but when Lil confessed her nervousness as they approached the house, Sally didn’t bite her tongue. “I’d be nervous myself,” she quipped, “if I didn’t have any more brains than you’ve got.”

Irene Legendre (Leila Hyams)

Irene, Bill’s wife, is quite an interesting woman. Early in the film, she discovers Bill engaging in some sort of (off-camera) shenanigans with Lil. Irene is justifiably upset – tearful and hurt. But the first words out of her mouth are these: “I might have understood – if it hadn’t been a girl like that.” So what’s that supposed to mean? If she’d caught Bill smooching some society dame, or doing the horizontal hokey pokey with last season’s most popular debutante, it would’ve been okay? That she’s only offended by Bill’s taste in sidepieces? Tut, tut, Irene – your snobbery is showing. But don’t get me wrong – I actually dig Irene. She turns out to be strong and determined, yet forgiving and loving – but not stupid. I like that in a dame.

William Legendre, Sr., had Lil's number.

William Legendre, Sr., had Lil’s number.

William Legendre, Sr. (Lewis Stone)

Bill’s dad is one of the few men in the movie who seems immune to Lil’s allure – he sees through Lil like she’s made out of cellophane. When he gets wind of his son’s one-night stand, he first tries to get rid of Lil by shipping her off to Cleveland. “It’s going to be a lot easier for my son without you in this town,” he tells her. His initial effort to remove Lil from Bill’s life doesn’t work, but trust me – he’s no quitter.

Aunt Jane (May Robson)

Outspoken and opinionated, Irene’s aunt is the pre-incarnation of two characters from one of my favorite films, The Women: Norma Shearer’s mother (Lucile Watson) and one of her best pals (Pauline Goddard). Like these women, Aunt Jane chides Irene for divorcing Bill when he found himself in Lil’s clutches: “However you came to make that idiotic blunder is beyond me,” Aunt Jane wonders. “You’d have stood by Bill if he’d gone broke or had the smallpox or some other awful calamity had befallen him. Well, he’s sick now! Or insane. Or whatever you choose to call it.”

Charles Gaerste (Henry Stephenson)

Gaerste is a longtime friend of the Legendre family, and literally old enough to be Lil’s grandpa – but that doesn’t prevent him from falling under her spell. To his credit, he falls before he’s aware that Lil is Bill’s wife, but by the time he discovers that bit of info, he’s hooked. Actually, Gaerste is a pretty pathetic character – Lil leads him around like a puppy on a leash, first blackmailing him into aiding her social climbing aspirations, and later carrying on an affair with him in the Big Apple. Like Bill, Gaerste is like putty in Lil’s hands: “You’re so beautiful,” he sighs. “What’s the use?”

If you like your pre-Codes hot and your pre-Code women hotter, then be sure to catch Red-Headed Woman, August 7th on TCM. You. Will. Not. Be. Sorry.


Now be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for this month!

The Joan Crawford Blogathon: Dance, Fools, Dance (1931)

•July 29, 2016 • 4 Comments

Dance, Fools, Dance (1931) may not be one of those films that turns up on Top 10 lists of pre-Code movies, but it’s one of my favorites. When I say it’s got it all, you can take that to the bank. Gratuitous shots of ladies in their lingerie. Financial ruin. Premarital sex. Bootlegging. Gangsters. Petty female jealousy. Murder.

And best of all, it’s got Joan Crawford.

La Crawford stars as Bonnie Jordan, a wealthy, spoiled brat who seems to spend half her time partying with her friends on the yacht that bears her name, and the other half lounging in bed, recovering from the yacht parties. Along with her equally trifling brother, Rodney (William Bakewell), Bonnie gets an abrupt and unexpected awakening when her father suffers a fatal heart attack following the stock market crash. Forced to earn a living, Bonnie gets a job as a cub newspaper reporter and winds up going undercover to find a local bootlegger (Clark Gable).

In this scene, practically the entire cast strips down to their undies!

In this scene, practically the entire cast strips down to their undies!

There’s not a dull moment in this 80-minute film, as we see Bonnie undergo a drastic transformation from flighty socialite to struggling working girl to purposeful crusader – and we get a saucy dance number from Crawford as an extra treat! Here are some of the many reasons why Crawford and her character make this underrated pre-Coder one to watch:

The movie makes no secret of the fact that Bonnie and her (rather boring) boyfriend, Bob (Lester Vail), are doing more than just holding hands, if you know what I mean. We quickly learn that Bonnie’s in no rush to walk down the aisle – instead, she espouses the virtues of “trying love out on approval.”

An illustration of Bonnie’s shallow personality at the start of the film is offered up in a scene at her family breakfast table. Shortly after taking her seat, Bonnie lights up a cigarette, and her father asks her if she has to smoke before they eat. “I must if I want to keep thin, darling,” Bonne tells him.

Bonnie refuses to let Bob see her cry.

Bonnie refuses to let Bob see her cry.

After the sudden death of their father, Bonnie and her brother discover that they are flat broke. Bob shows up to rescue Bonnie with a half-hearted proposal of marriage, but Bonnie’s pride won’t allow her to take him up on the offer. She manages to mask her disappointment and sadness at Bob’s palpable relief when she turns him down – she doesn’t let the tears flow until after he’s gone.

Bonnie and Rodney are forced to auction off the contents of the mansion where they grew up, but while Rodney turns sullen and bitter, Bonnie quickly develops a plucky sense of determination. “There’s no use crying about it,” she tells her brother. “Buck up. Put on your spurs and gauntlets and give the world a battle. Swat ‘em in the eye.”

After she lands a newspaper job, Bonnie’s no overnight sensation. She devotes pages to stories that deserve only a paragraph and she’s stuck reporting on less-than-earthshaking events like a local poultry show. But she doesn’t give up, learning the ropes from her closest friend on the paper, Bert Scranton (Cliff Edwards). And when Bert is gunned down by the local mob, Bonnie gets the job of infiltrating the gang in an attempt to find the killer. Fully aware of the danger she’s facing, she tamps down her fears: “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to find out who killed Bert,” she tells her boss. “I’m not afraid.”

Jake Luva has his eye on Bonnie from the start.

Jake Luva has his eye on Bonnie from the start.

Bonnie gets a job as a dancer in a nightclub owned by mobster Jake Luva (Clark Gable), and while performing one night, she spies her old boyfriend, Bob, in the audience. She still loves him, but when he comes to her dressing room, she hides her feelings under a veneer of defiance. There is a moment when her bitterness over Bob’s half-assed marriage proposal rises to the surface, but she doesn’t allow it to stay there for long.

If I tell you any more about this plucky dame, I’ll be spilling some important plot points, but suffice it to say that the last 20 minutes of the film are packed with non-stop action and some twists that you won’t see coming. It’s totally worth your time.

Joanie Tidbits:

The critic for Photoplay magazine wasn’t a fan of the film, but he praised Crawford’s performance, writing that the actress “proves herself a great dramatic actress. The story . . . is hokum, but it’s good hokum and Joan breathes life into her characterization.” Crawford, though, wasn’t pleased with her portrayal of Bonnie Jordan: “[Dance, Fools, Dance] was a disaster!” she said. “I gave a lousy performance, the overacting thing again.”

Dance, Fools, Dance is the first of nine films in which Gable and Crawford starred opposite each other. Some of their other films are Possessed (1931), Laughing Sinners (1931), and Forsaking All Others (1934).

Of Gable, Crawford once said: “The first time I met him, I was terrified. I kept thinking, ‘He is a stage actor. He knows how to read lines. I am suffering by comparison. He’s laughing at me.’”

If you’ve never seen Dance, Fools, Dance, hunt it down and check it out. And in the meantime, enjoy this clip from the film!


This post is part of the Joan Crawford Blogathon, hosted by Crystal over at In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to visit her site and check out the other great posts that are part of this event!


The Hot and Bothered Blogathon: The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932)

•July 10, 2016 • 7 Comments

When we first see Molly Louvain, she’s with a man. And she’s crying.

It’s a sign of things to come.

The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, released in 1932, stars Ann Dvorak in the title role – and, boy, is “strange” a good word to describe her love life. Another word might be “ill-fated” or better still, “lousy.” In fact, her experience with almost every man in her life is the very pits.

Let’s start with the fella we meet at the beginning of the film. His name is Ralph (Don Dillaway) and he’s rich (and kinda on the goofy side, if you ask me, but to each her own). And Molly’s nuts about him. To his credit, Rich Ralph seems to be quite taken with Molly as well. In fact, we learn, he’s taking her home with him for the first time the following night, to a birthday party his mother is giving for him. “I’ve kept you a secret from my mother long enough,” Rich Ralph proclaims. “You’re going to be at that dinner table, right between mother and me.”

Wanna take a guess whether Molly ever makes it to that dinner? If you guessed in the negative, you win! You see, Molly is from what some call “the other side of the tracks.” As she shares with Rich Ralph, her mother abandoned her when she was seven years old, leaving a note for Molly to be sure that her caretakers didn’t put starch in her underwear. (Seriously.) “I want to be different [from my mother],” Molly says. “Decent. Everything people think I can’t be.”

Who knew that stockings could lead to...MURDER?!? (Sorry, wrong movie.)

Who knew that stockings could lead to…MURDER?!? (Sorry, wrong movie.)

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I’ll back up just a bit, to the day before the big birthday bash. After Molly’s aforementioned date with Rich Ralph, she returns to her job behind a cigar counter, where we’re introduced to two more men in her life: Nick Grant (Leslie Fenton), a traveling salesman with a line so slick you could ice skate on it, and Jimmy Cook (Richard Cromwell), a young bellhop in the hotel where Molly works (and lives), who thinks she’s the best thing since motorized cars. Molly, of course, doesn’t have time for either of these gents, what with all the stars in her eyes over Rich Ralph, but she does rely on Jimmy’s help in getting ready for the birthday extravaganza, and she uses her feminine wiles to get Nick to give her a pair of silk stockings for the event.

As it turns out, Rich Ralph fails to pick Molly up at the prearranged time, but this doesn’t seem to faze Molly – she merely uses her last 95 cents to take a cab to Rich Ralph’s mansion: “This is my big night, and nothing’s going to stop me,” she told Jimmy earlier. “My whole life, everything, depends on tonight!” But before dropping her off, even the cab driver seems to be offering Molly a sage warning: “Watch your step – it’s a tough climb,” he tells her before she ascends the stairs to the entrance. “Don’t fall.”

But the cabbie can’t stop Molly from receiving the news that’s delivered by the family butler: that Rich Ralph and his mother left “quite suddenly” for New York. No Rich Ralph. No introduction to Mumsie. The party was over before it started. The end.

Molly masks her sorrow with champagne and music.

Molly masks her sorrow with champagne and music.

When we next see Molly, she’s back at the hotel, guzzling champagne and banging out tunes on the piano. Oh, and did I mention that she’s doing all this in Nick Grant’s room? Yup, she’s drowning her sorrows and trying to put on a happy face – or, in other words, she’s testing the validity of that old adage, “The best way to get over one man is to get under another one.” And although Jimmy shows up with a liquor delivery and is mortified to find Molly there, his efforts to get her to leave are woefully unsuccessful. Instead, she winds up leaving town with Nick the next day.

At this point, the film fast-forwards three years and we find that Molly’s life still is nothing to write home about. Let me get you up to speed. First off, she now lives in Chicago and has a three-year-old daughter, Ann Marie (Jackie Lyn Dufton), whose father is – though he doesn’t know it – Rich Ralph. She’s still with Nick, but she’s fed up with their lifestyle, which is financed by Nick’s crooked schemes and petty crimes. And she’s made up her mind to ditch Nick, get a job, and leave her daughter in the care of her landlady while she gets her life together. “I want to see that my baby gets a break,” she tells Nick. “I’ve been weak and cheap drifting along like this, but I’m not going to drift any longer.”

Jimmy returns.

Jimmy returns.

The job Molly gets is as a dime-a-dance girl in a local dance hall. But in keeping with the “strange love” of the film’s title, and through a series of coincidences, Molly’s past catches up to her when both Nick and Jimmy (remember him?) wind up at the dance hall one night. Nick’s drunk and belligerent, yet for some reason, Molly and Jimmy climb into his new car with him – which turns out to be an even worse idea when it turns out that the car is stolen. Long story short, Nick is wounded in a gun battle with the cops, Molly escapes in the hot car with Jimmy, and the two of them take temporary refuge in an apartment hour in the heart of the city. And that’s where Molly (who has dyed her hair blonde to shield her identity) meets yet another man – enter Scotty Cornell (Lee Tracy), an audacious and animated newspaper reporter who lives across the hall.

Molly and Scotty have an instant mutual attraction – Scotty appreciates Molly’s biting wit and penchant for a stiff drink (or two), but he has no idea that she’s the woman being sought by the cops as Nick’s accomplice. (Also, despite his interest, Scotty nonetheless pegs Molly as a “tinsel” girl: “Looks swell on a Christmas tree,” he explains, “but you can’t stand up in the rain.” Actually, I’m not sure what this even means, but it’s no compliment, I’m certain of that.) In the midst of Molly and Scotty’s increasing sexual tension, the ever-reliable (and incredibly oblivious) Jimmy proposes marriage and, lured by the possibility of a fresh start, Molly accepts: “This is my chance to be respectable. And I’m going to take it,” she tells Scotty.

Love at first sight. Or something like that.

Love at first sight. Or something like that.

But Molly’s matrimonial plans don’t sit too well with Scotty: “It looks great now, but in a month, you’ll go daffy,” he snipes. Their resulting argument winds up in a passionate kiss, and of course, Jimmy chooses just that moment to make an entrance. Unable to fight her feelings, Molly changes her mind and decides to run off to Paris with Scotty – this despite the fact that Scotty actually tells her:  “Remember this. He’s willing to marry you. I’m not. He’ll give you a home. I won’t. But we’ll go places, hear the band play. For a while. And then maybe I’ll give you a dirty deal. I always do. He’s more of a man than I am . . . He’s your chance.” (Now, as Eddie Murphy once said in one of his routines, that’s a hint and a half for your ass.)

I’m going to stop here – I don’t want to spoil the rest of the film for you. You’ve simply got to see for yourself how strange Molly’s love actually gets. But trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

To tide you over until you get a chance to check it out, here’s some miscellaneous stuff about the film that I found to be interesting. I hope you will, too!

This is Angela Lansbury with her second husband, actor/producer Peter Shaw. The two enjoyed a happy union that lasted for more than 50 years, until Shaw’s death in 2003. (Just thought you’d like to know.)

Richard Cromwell, who played Jimmy, was briefly married to Angela Lansbury, from 1945 to 1946. When they married, Cromwell was 35 and Lansbury was 19. Lansbury later discovered that Cromwell was gay; the two remained friends for the remainder of Cromwell’s life, which ended in 1960 with his death from liver cancer.

The film was directed by Michael Curtiz, whose pre-Code output included Female (1933) and Mandalay (1934). He also helmed such disparate classics as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), and Life With Father (1947).

According to the math, Molly would’ve been 16 years old at the time of her ill-fated romance with Rich Ralph. She told him that her mother ran away when she was 7. And three years later, when she tells this story again, she says her mother ran away 12 years ago. Which would mean her mother had been gone for nine years when she was with Ralph – and 9 plus 7 is 16! The hell?! EW.

Keep an eye open for this goof: in a front page headline, Molly’s last name is misspelled – Louvaine.

While in police custody, after being grilled for hours by police, Molly sarcastically confesses to a slew of unsolved crimes: the kidnapping of Dorothy Arnold and Charley Ross and the murders of William Desmond Taylor and Arnold Rothstein. (Before seeing this film, I knew about Taylor and Rothstein, but I’d never heard about the kidnapping cases. Interesting stuff.

Dvorak and Tracy each appeared in seven films in 1932. Here they are in a scene from their other 1932 film together, Love Is a Racket.

Dvorak and Tracy each appeared in seven films in 1932. Here they are in a scene from their other 1932 film together, Love Is a Racket.

Ann Dvorak and Lee Tracy starred in another film this same year, Love Is a Racket, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. , and Frances Dee. It’s directed by William Wellman.

Leslie Fenton, who played the oily Nick Grant, was married to Ann Dvorak in real life from 1932 to 1945. The two met shortly before filming began on Molly Louvain.

Actress Mary Doran is in the credits, and she’s seen for about seven seconds in one scene, but her part obviously ended up on the cutting room floor; you only get a glimpse of her as a group of Jimmy’s college buddies walks past her at the dance hall. If you’ve seen The Divorcee, you’ll remember Doran as Janice, the woman who had the affair with Norma Shearer’s husband. Louise Beavers, who would star two years later opposite Claudette Colbert in Imitation of Life, also has a brief role. She has two lines: “Oh, that’s all right,” and “Oh, thank you, ma’am.”

Check out The Strange Love of Molly Louvain when you get a chance, y’all.

You only owe it to yourself.


This post is part of the Hot and Bothered Blogathon: The Films of 1932, hosted by Aurora, over at Once Upon a Screen, and Theresa, of CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch. Don’t miss the other posts that are part of this great event!

Pre-Code Crazy: Queen Christina (1933)

•July 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Catch the luminous Garbo on TCM July 21st.

Thanks to a glut of Westerns on TCM this month, there’s not a whole lot of pre-Codin’ going on right now. Still, out of the handful of pre-Code films airing in July, I did manage to find one for my pre-Code pick: Queen Christina (1933). Starring Greta Garbo in the title role, along with John Gilbert, Lewis Stone, and Ian Keith, the film tells the story of the real-life queen of Sweden, who reigned for more than 20 years.

The unorthodox and independent queen assumed the throne at the age of six, after the death of her father, who’d ordered her raised as a boy. After introducing us to this tyke (played by Cora Sue Collins) on the occasion of her coronation, the film fast-forwards to the adult Christina, centering on a relatively brief span of time, during which she calls for an end to the Thirty Years’ War, falls in love  with Spanish envoy Don Antonio de la Prada (Gilbert), and abdicates her throne.

Action-wise, that’s pretty much Queen Christina in a nutshell. But it’s not the plot that makes the film worth your time – it’s primarily Garbo that’s a must-see. She’s beautiful, of course, but she also delivers an engaging portrayal of the young queen that makes her someone you’d like to know. Also, her luminous, unforgettable performance features two well-known scenes. The first comes after Christina has spent the night with Don Antonio in a snowbound inn and fallen in love with him. Knowing that she must soon return to her palace, she languidly takes a tour of the room, pausing to run her fingers over the various items – a spinning wheel, the bed, a religious painting.

The film's most memorable scene.

The film’s most memorable scene.

“I have been memorizing the room,” she tells Antonio. “In the future, in my memory, I shall live a great deal in this room.” It’s really lovely and quite moving. The other well-known scene is actually the final shot of the movie, which shows Christina after she has left the throne, at the helm of a ship that is bound for the next phase of her life’s journey. There’s no dialogue, just the lingering view of Christina’s face. It’s said that in order to help Garbo achieve the expression of combined sorrow, strength, and determination, director Rouben Mamoulian told the actress to think of nothing and avoid blinking, so that audiences could write the ending of the film themselves.

Sweden in the 1600s – Pre-Code?

As a period piece, Queen Christina isn’t your typical pre-Code feature, but fret not – it definitely has enough pre-Codian characteristics to go around! Here are a few:


Early in the film, Christina plants a tender, on-the-mouth kiss on her lady-in-waiting, Ebba (Elizabeth Young), who complains that the queen doesn’t have time to spend with her. “You’re surrounded by musty old papers and musty old men, and I can’t get near you.” Christina consoles her by promising that the two will go away together to spend a few days in the country. (It was rumored that the real-life Christina and Ebba were lovers.)

In an off-the-beaten-path tavern, two drunken patrons approach Queen Christina (who they think is a man, like everyone else in the tavern, because of her clothing and hairstyle) and ask her to decide a bet. One man insists that the queen has had six lovers in the last year. “I claim that’s a disloyal, libelous statement,” the other one offers. “I say there were nine!”And Christina’s decision? “The truth is that the queen has had 12 lovers this past year. A round dozen!”

Antonio has a brief exchange with a maid at the inn: “You’re very pretty, Elsa,” he tells her. “Are you also good?” And Elsa rejoins, “When I do not like a man, yes.” (Holy mackerel, what a line!)

Elsa flirts with Christina, telling her that the innkeeper says Christina is to have “everything you need.” She suggestively removes the scarf that had been covering her shoulders and gives Christina a lingering look before adding, “If you should need anything, my room is at the end of the passage.”

After Christina and Antonio first make love, Christina gushes, “This is how the Lord must have felt when he first beheld the finished world.” Censors objected to this line, but it remained in the film.

Other Stuff

Queen Christina was one of John Gilbert's last movies.

Queen Christina was one of John Gilbert’s last movies.

Originally, Garbo requested Laurence Olivier to play opposite her – she’d been impressed by the actor’s performance the year before in Westward Passage. Olivier was released, though, after rehearsals showed that the two had little chemistry. Olivier received his negotiated salary and was replaced by John Gilbert, whose career was in a tailspin at the time. Unfortunately, despite a good performance, the film did nothing to revive his prospects, and he only made one more picture after this one.

Queen Christina was the number one box office movie in the United States for 1933.

Garbo wears an elaborate, jeweled gown in the scene where she receives Antonio at court. The dress was featured in the “Hollywood Costume” exhibit seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2012 and at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles in 2014.

The real Queen Christina, who ruled from 1632 to 1644, did abdicate the throne at the age of 27, but it was not for romance, as depicted in the film, but because she had secretly converted to Roman Catholicism, which had been outlawed in Sweden. She never married.

Catch Queen Christina July 21st on TCM. You only owe it to yourself.


Don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem my pal Kristina is recommending for this month!

The 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Even More Adventures in Paradise – Part 3

•June 24, 2016 • 8 Comments

The adventure continues . . .

I know that there’s been a pretty hefty gap since my last post on this year’s TCM Film Festival – I have to admit that a series of real-life events, like my younger daughter’s prom, ballet recital, and graduation (sniff!) intervened, and knocked me a bit off track. But I’m back with a vengeance now, still basking in the TCMFF glow, and hoping you won’t mind coming along on this slightly delayed, continued adventure!

The first three films I saw at the festival could hardly have been more different from each other in tone, content, and era. The first was Los Tallos Amargos (1956), an Argentinian feature described by noir historian Eddie Muller as “hard core noir.” Winner of Argentina’s Silver Condor Award (the equivalent of an Academy Award) in 1957 for Best Picture and Best Director, the picture was considered lost until it turned up in a private collection in 2014 and was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

The cinematography in Los Tallos Amargos was something to behold.

The cinematography in Los Tallos Amargos was something to behold.

Los Tallos Amargos, which means “The Bitter Stems,” focuses on a reporter who, along with a Hungarian expatriate, cooks up a lucrative scheme for a fake journalism correspondence school. Things start to slide to the left, though, when the reporter begins to suspect his partner’s motives, resulting in a shocking murder and a satisfying noir twist at the end. The cinematographer on the film was a protégé of Gregg Toland (the photographer for such films as Citizen Kane, The Little Foxes, and Wuthering Heights, for which he won an Oscar), and the score was composed by Astor Piazzolla, the innovator of nuevo tango music.

“It is an exemplary example of film noir – an extraordinary film, really,” Muller said when introducing the film. “If you entered the theater in a good mood – sorry. Because you are about to experience film noir the way film noir is supposed to be.” (I didn’t quite share Muller’s effusive view of the movie, but it was definitely worth my time, and one which I’d like to see again.)

Dietrich was AWESOME in this film. As were her clothes.

Dietrich was AWESOME in this film. As were her clothes.

The second movie I saw was Shanghai Express (1932), starring Marlene Dietrich and directed by Josef von Sternberg. Before the film was aired, von Sternberg’s son, Nicholas, was interviewed by film historian Jeremy Arnold (author of the recently released The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter). Nicholas told the packed crowd that his father, born Jonas Sternberg, came to this country from Austria at the age of 7 and started his Hollywood film career in 1921. In an effort to “Germanize” his name, the director added the “von,” which elicited a negative reaction from Variety.

“My dad liked that [reaction], so he kept the ‘von,’” Nicholas sad.

Von Sternberg discovered Marlene Dietrich in a play, leaning up against a wall, Nicholas said, and felt that she would be perfect for the part of Lola Lola in The Blue Angel (1930), according to Nicholas. The two went on to do a total of six pictures together; the biggest success was Shanghai Express.

This was my first Anna May Wong movie. She was all that.

This was my first Anna May Wong movie. She was all that.

“Marlene did everything my father asked her to do, and then she also added to it,” Nicholas said. “She was the perfect person to use in front of the camera for him.” (Nicholas received a rousing response from the audience when he shared that he knew Dietrich as well: “She was wonderful to me,” he said. “I used to sit on her lap when I was growing up.”)

In Shanghai Express, Dietrich plays Magdalene, a prostitute better known as Shanghai Lily, who encounters an old flame (Clive Brook) aboard a train headed for Shanghai. The train is populated by a mélange of quirky characters, including Mrs. Haggerty (the always outstanding Louise Closser Hale), who is focused on smuggling her beloved dog across country; Hui Fei (Anna Mae Wong), Lily’s friend and fellow lady of the night; Henry Chang (Warner Oland), a mysteriously sinister Eurasian; and Sam Salt (Eugene Pallett) who, according to his self-assessment, will “bet on anything under the sun going right or wrong.” Like the other two features that served as my opening to the TCM film festival, I’d never seen Shanghai Express before – and I loved every second; the performances, the dialogue, the cinematography, the fashions! It was the bomb dot com.

Coppola providing direction to Hackman in The Conversation.

Coppola providing direction to Hackman in The Conversation.

The last of my first three films was The Conversation, which was preceded by an interview with director Francis Ford Coppola. In introducing Coppola, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz told the audience that in 1970, Coppola co-wrote the screenplay for Patton, in 1972 co-wrote and directed The Godfather, in 1974 wrote and directed The Conversation and The Godfather Part 2, and in 1979 co-wrote and directed Apocalypse Now.

“I defy you to find any director in American history,” Mankiewicz said, “that had a better decade.”

The Conversation stars Gene Hackman as a paranoid surveillance expert who overhears a conversation that leads him to believe that a murder is going to be committed. The film opens with an extended scene featuring Hackman’s character and co-star John Cazale taping the conversation of a couple in a park.

Coppola actually placed cameras on the tops of nearby buildings.

Coppola actually placed cameras on the tops of nearby buildings.

“We did it the way they would have done it. We actually put the cameras on these tall buildings, as if we were really doing this surveillance job,” Coppola explained. He also recalled that Hackman was very uncomfortable portraying such an unpleasant character. “He later told me that it was the favorite performance he had ever given.”

Of the three movies, The Conversation was my least favorite, but it’s so highly acclaimed that I feel I must’ve missed something and should give it another try. I’ll work on it.

Inside the Chinese Multiplex. The calm before the storm.

Inside the Chinese Multiplex. The calm before the storm.

Miscellaneous Stuff:

On the first evening of the film festival, my friend Kim and I stayed so long at the red carpet (Margaret O’Brien took a REALLY long time to make her way through the reporters, and I refused to leave without seeing her close up!) that we missed the first movie that we’d planned to see. So, while waiting for Los Tallos Amargos, we decided to pass the time at the bar inside the Chinese Multiplex, where we had a great conversation about old movies with the bartender, Josh. We’d been there about an hour when the theater’s fire alarms went off, and the entire place had to be evacuated. So there we were, with hundreds of other TCM classic film fans, standing in the hallway in the mall. It was actually a lot of fun – I saw several friends, took some pictures, even did an Instagram video where I re-enacted a scene from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. (“What. A dump!”)

In the Chinese Theater, while waiting for The Conversation to begin, I chatted with a lady sitting next to me. It turned out that she was the wife of Charlie Tabesh, TCM Senior Vice President for Programming and Production. And after a few minutes, her hubby stopped by, so I got to meet him! I was uncommonly excited about this serendipitous close encounter.

Stay tuned for more from the 2016 TCM Film Festival . . .

List o’ the Week: Stars I Don’t Care For

•June 23, 2016 • 31 Comments


I think we can all agree that anyone who writes or reads a classic movie blog is more than fond of classic movie stars, right?

Still, it also can’t be denied that every classic movie fan is not a fan of every classic movie star.

With that in mind, this week’s List o’ the Week (yes, I know that a whole lot of weeks have gone by since I last posted a list!) focuses on those actors and actresses who just don’t do it for me. I know that my list is bound to include some of your favorites – but remember, some of my favorites may not do it for you, either! In any event, I hope you won’t be too offended by my choices – and that you’ll share your non-faves in the comments!

John Boles

I’m not positive how John Boles got into the movies. I feel like he must have been the son of Carl Laemmle’s favorite sister or something. I’ve seen Boles in a number of films – Back Street (1932), Only Yesterday (1933), The Life of Virgie Winters (1934), and Stella Dallas (1937) come to mind, and in each one, he’s got women falling all over him like he’s got charm and panache oozing from every pore. And I’m like . . . what? It’s not that he’s not attractive, in a button-down, stiff-upper-lip kind of way. It’s just that when it comes to acting, he’s no Marlon Brando, if you know what I mean.



June Allyson

June Allyson makes my teeth hurt. I really only like her in one film – The Shrike (1955), where she portrays a completely horrible woman who nearly drives her husband completely bonkers. But other than that one flick, she totally gets on my nerves. I’m not sure if it’s her voice, or her whole vibe, or what, but I’ve never cared for her and I suppose I never will. Wait, let me take that back. I actually kinda liked the Depends commercials she used to do. So, there’s that.

Jennifer Jones

First off, I have to say two things about Jennifer Jones. One, I love her in Duel in the Sun (1946), which is so ridiculous how can you not love everything about it, and Cluny Brown (also 1946), in which Jones displays a rare comedic flair. And, two, I recently finished reading a book that focused on Jones’s relationship with her first husband, Robert Walker and her second, David O. Selznick, and let me say that she didn’t exactly come out of the pages smelling like a rose. I suspect that my exposure to her rather shabby treatment of Walker (who was the bomb diggety in Strangers on a Train [1951]) may be part of the reason why I’m not feeling the Jones love right now. In fact, it’s probably a big part. But even without the inside scoop on her personal life, I’m simply not a big fan.



Loretta Young

Let me clarify. I adore pre-Code Loretta Young, when she was all cute and feisty and whatnot. (Have you seen Platinum Blonde (1931)? Midnight Mary (1933)? Born to be Bad (1934)? Boy, she was something else.) But after 1934? Not so much. She’s just a little too The Farmer’s Daughter for me. In everything. BO-rinnng.

Van Johnson

I’ve tried to like Van Johnson. Really tried. And he was okay in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954). But on the whole, there’s not a lot of THERE there.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr is one of the screen’s great beauties and I love the fact that she helped invent a secret communications system that formed the foundation for cell phones, fax machines and other wireless technology. But as an actress, she leaves me completely cold.  COLD. She’s all accent and hair and eyebrows. That’s about it.



George Brent

In a post I read once, a blogger likened George Brent to Irish lumber (I wish I could find the post – it was a positive scream. I’ll keep looking). I don’t think he’s as wooden as, say, John Boles, but I can appreciate the comparison. Still, George Brent is such a likable guy, I hate to even include him on this list – but as an actor, I have to admit that he’s a bit on the bland side.

Claudette Colbert

I was a little torn about including Claudette Colbert here; there are several Colbert movies that are among my all-time favorites: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), Three-Cornered Moon (1933), Midnight (1939), and The Palm Beach Story (1942). But there are as many – if not more – where I can’t stand her. She’s got this thing about biting her lip to convey emotion that makes my eyes roll involuntarily, and basically, I don’t think her acting is all that. The bottom line, I’ve realized, is that while she’s more than palatable, and even enjoyable, in comedies (especially the pre-Code or screwball variety), I cannot abide her in dramas. She’s just too, too.



Honorable (Dishonorable?) Mentions:

I’ve only seen the following performers in one movie each, if that, so I didn’t think it was quite fair to include them in the full-blown “don’t care for” category. Still, I’ve seen enough of them to have decided that I don’t need to see any more:

Randolph Scott

Stewart Granger

Kathryn Grayson

Ronald Reagan

Esther Williams

So whaddya think of my list? And who are the stars you don’t care for? C’mon, give!!

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)