Announcing the 1947 Blogathon!

•June 5, 2015 • 64 Comments

What do Out of the PastBorn to Kill, Forever Amber, and the Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap have in common?

They were all released in 1947!

Whether you’re a fan of film noir, comedy, westerns, or four-hankie weepers, you’re sure to have a favorite that hit the big screen in this great cinematic year.

So tell us all about it in the 1947 Blogathon! Brought to you by Kristina from Speakeasy and Karen from Shadows and Satin, this event will run July 13-15, 2015. You can write about any film, from any genre, as long as it was released between January 1, 1947 and December 31, 1947.

Duplicates are no problem, and you can post on any day of the event. Just click here and fill out this handy, dandy form for each film you’ll be covering, and you’ll be all set! (We’re also asking for your email address, but don’t fret – it’s only for contact purposes and we won’t make it public. We promise!)

Uncle Silas Speakeasy
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Seven Doors of Cinema
Out of the Past The Stop Button
The Lady From Shanghai The Cinematic Frontier
The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer Silver Screenings
Black Narcissus Criterion Blues
A Double Life B Noir Detour
Black Narcissus Now Voyaging
The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer Now Voyaging
Dark Passage The Motion Pictures
Boomerang! Vienna
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome Caftan Woman
Forever Amber Moon in Gemini
The Devil Thumbs a Ride Shadows and Satin
Born To Kill everythingnoir.com
Hold That Lion! Movie Movie Blog Blog
The Lady From Shanghai GirlsDoFilm
Odd Man Out Defiant Success
Something in the Wind Pop Culture Reverie
The Humpbacked Horse The Globally Curious
The Perils of Pauline Sepia Stories
Angel and the Badman Movie Classics
Jassy A Shroud of Thoughts
Unconquered Movies Silently
Song of the Thin Man Love Letters to Old Hollywood
This Time for Keeps Love Letters to Old Hollywood
The Macomber Affair CineMaven
Heartaches Noirish
Nightmare Alley Back to Golden Days
Lady in the Lake Old Hollywood Films
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Le Mot du Cinephiliaque
Variety Girl Mike’s Take on the Movies
Violence Brian Camp’s Film and Anime Blog
One Wonderful Sunday (Japan) Brian Camp’s Film and Anime Blog
Magic Town Phyllis Loves Classic Movies
Tom & Jerry shorts from 1947 Motion Picture Gems
Odd Man Out The Fluff Is Raging
Welcome Stranger Motion Picture Gems
The October Man Book ’em, Danno!
Dark Passage Pure Golden Classics
Deep Valley Another Old Movie Blog
Dark Passage In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood
The Ghost And Mrs Muir In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood
T-Men Wide Screen World
Gentleman’s Agreement Outspoken & Freckled
Road to Rio Critica Retro
Lady in the Lake Old Hollywood Films
They Won’t Believe Me Portraits by Jenni
Monsieur Verdoux Seredipitous Anachronisms
Daisy Kenyon Cinephilia
Possessed Once Upon a Screen
Song of Love The Great Katharine Hepburn

Please publicize this event on your blog by helping yourself to one of the lovely banners below. We’ll be looking for you to join us July 13-15th, when we plan to party like it’s 1947!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-Code Crazy: Hot Saturday (1932)

•June 1, 2015 • 3 Comments

My Pre-Code Crazy pick for the month of June was a no-brainer. As soon as I saw that TCM was airing Hot Saturday (1931), that was all I needed to know. The film stars pre-Code veteran Nancy Carroll, whose huge, expressive eyes and heart-shaped face always put me in the mind of Betty Boop. The cast also includes a young (overly made-up) Cary Grant, Randolph Scott (it’s always funny to me to see him in a non-western), and Jane Darwell, in a rare really nasty role. If you’re a pre-Code fan – and of course you are! – this movie is for you.

Hot Saturday takes place in the small town of Marysville which, we learn at the start, consists of one bank, two fire engines, and four street cars – a place where “everyone knew on Sunday what everyone else did on Saturday . . . and the rest of the week.”  (Incidentally, I love the opening credits – behind the film’s title, stars, and director, you can see a close-up of an oscillating, vintage table fan and an old phone. I don’t know why I like this so much, but I do. I’m just sayin’.)

Like a moth to a flame.

Like a moth to a flame.

The main character is Ruth Brock (Carroll), who’s obviously a popular gal, as shown in the first scene, which takes place in the bank (the town’s only one, dontcha know), where she works as a clerk.  In a span of approximately 60 seconds, Ruth receives proposals from no fewer than three co-workers for a date that Saturday night. We’re also introduced to the lucky fella who gets the nod, the oddly monikered Conny Billop (played by Edward Woods, perhaps best known as Jimmy Cagney’s pal in The Public Enemy); Eva Randolph (Lillian Bond), the bank president’s daughter, who’s not the sweet young thing that she initially appears to be; and Romer Sheffield (Cary Grant), a filthy rich playboy. A couple of interesting notes about Romer – we hear a trio of gossiping hens labeling him as a “vile influence” and grousing about him “living openly” with a woman he brought with him to his summer home – one of the ladies, in fact, wants the city council to ask him to leave town (!). Also, like the men who work at the bank, Romer is drawn to Ruth like a moth to a flame: “Just talk to me, will you?” he urges her during a visit to her job. “I like to hear you talk.” (Incidentally, after his gal pal, Camille Renault, throws a hissy fit over Romer flirting with Ruth, Romer writes her a check for $10,000 and puts her on the next train out of town!)

Cold busted.

Cold busted.

Knowing that the town’s young folk gather every Saturday at a local spot called Willow Springs, Romer contacts Conny and invites the crowd to stop at his place first: “There’s lots of drinks and I’ll rummage up some food,” he tells him. “Stay as long as you like. No limit.” Before the night’s festivities begin, though, we’re introduced to Ruth’s family – her loving but unemployed father (William Collier, Sr.), who waits for his daughter’s weekly paycheck so he can buy his cigars; her shrewish mother (Jane Darwell), who seems to despise Ruth for no apparent reason; and her hot-to-trot little sister, Annie (Rose Coghlan), who is featured in one of my favorite jaw-dropping scenes in all of pre-Code. In it, Ruth arrives home after work to prepare for her Saturday-night date with Conny. As she opens the door to her bedroom, she finds Annie hurriedly closing a dresser drawer and busying herself with a broom. “Who, me?” Annie responds when Ruth asks what she was doing in the bureau. “Why, I wasn’t anywhere near it.” When Ruth searches the bureau, she finds that her new “shorts” (also known as step-ins) are missing, and her sister again claims her innocence. But Ruth isn’t falling for the okey doke. She runs after her sister, grabs her, hauls her across the room and throws her down on the bed, raises up her dress, KNEELS on her legs, and wrenches the garment off, with her sister feebly and repeatedly protesting, “I didn’t mean it!” Seriously, you’ve got to see it to believe it.

Romer only has eyes for Ruth.

Romer only has eyes for Ruth.

(Speaking of scandalous, once the kids arrive at Romer’s party, there’s another brief scene worth mentioning. One of the revelers – Archie [Grady Sutton] – orders a drink from a server who happens to be Asian. To get his attention, Archie calls out, “Hey, One Lung,” and proceeds to use hand gestures as he says, “Bringy two drinky, velly tall, savvy?” It’s pretty cringe-inducing. To the filmmakers’ credit, the server doesn’t give off with any stereotypical behavior; instead, he responds, in perfect English, “What will it be, gentlemen? Scotch, Bourbon, or Cognac?”)

Romer doesn’t waste any time snatching Ruth away from Conny (who is, in turn, snapped up by Eva: “Don’t be a chump,” Eva warns. “She’d ditch you any day for Romer.”) When Ruth returns to the party a short time later, Eva expresses surprise. “Did you expect me to be gone all night?” Ruth inquires. And Eva nastily offers this line: “Well, dear, I didn’t know. You see, a girl in your position can afford to be so much more unconventional in her pleasures than I could.” (Whoa!)

After guzzling a sufficient amount of Romer’s liquor, the gang heads over to Willow Springs, where we see them dancing to a song with lyrics that represent the essence of pre-Code:

Open all the windows

Turn the fan on, too

I’m ablaze, I’m in a daze

The joint is jumpin'!

The joint is jumpin’!

I’m burning for you.

Call the fire engine

And the whole darn crew

Tell them all to hurry

‘Cause I’m burning for you.

I try to cool off

But when you say no

I’m a volcano

What can I do?

Would you let me smother,

Leave me in a stew?

Go and tell your mother

That I’m burning for you.

(Again I say, whoa!)

He said, she said...

He said, she said…

At Willow Springs, Conny takes Ruth on a boat ride, but when he steers to boat over to the shore, intent on a heavy duty make-out session, Ruth vehemently fights him off. (“What do you expect for a boat ride,” she asks, “Marlene Dietrich?”) (Heh.) When Ruth escapes from Conny’s clutches and runs off, Conny leaves her stranded – but she just happens to be near Romer’s property, and makes her way back to his house. She doesn’t stay long, but when Eva sees Ruth driven home in Romer’s car, the news quickly spreads through the town that Ruth spent the night with him. Before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Ruth’s the town pariah – she’s asked to resign from the Women’s Social League, and she’s fired from her job at the bank.

It’s right around this time that Randolph Scott enters the picture – and I recommend that you hang on to your hat, ‘cause the plot is about to take a couple of swerves that you’ll never see coming!

What have we here??? Tune in to TCM on June 14th and find out!

What have we here??? Tune in to TCM on June 14th and find out!

But I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

Hot Saturday is a real pre-Code gem, serving up 72 economical minutes of malicious backstabbing, rampant gossip, premarital sex, copious imbibing of alcohol, and gratuitous shots of lingerie – something for everyone! It airs on TCM on June 14th, so mark your calendar – it’s a must-see!

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

You only owe it to yourself.

My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon: The Women (1939)

•May 16, 2015 • 20 Comments

SSTheWomen1When I first heard about the “Favorite Classic Movie” blogathon sponsored by the good folks over at the Classic Film and TV Café, I was tickled pink. My colorful reaction began to fade a bit, though, when I really started thinking about it.

After all, my site is devoted to film noir and pre-Code, but I’ve already written about my favorite film noir, Double Indemnity, and while I’ve yet to identify a single pre-Code feature that stands out as my favorite, I’ve also already covered those that would be serious contenders – Private Lives, Baby Face, Bombshell, Red-Headed Woman.

What I really wanted to do was write about the film that I consider to be my favorite movie overall (outside of Gone With the Wind, which will always have my heart) – the film that I’ve seen more often than any other, the film I own on VHS and DVD, AND have seen on the big screen (thank you TCM Film Festival!), the film whose lines are most likely to flit through my head at any given time.

The Women (1939).

Yes. The Women.

But how to justify writing about The Women on my blog?  It was released too late to qualify for pre-Code, and it’s far too sunny for film noir – what kind of reasonable spin could I put this one?

Crawford. Shearer. It's a Pre-Code/Noir Crossover Mashup Thingy!

Crawford. Shearer. It’s a Pre-Code/Noir Crossover Mashup Thingy!

And then I hit on it! The Women stars the great Norma Shearer, who was a shining star in numerous pre-Codes, including The Divorcee, A Free Soul, and Let Us Be Gay, and the fabulous Joan Crawford, who straddled both the pre-Code and the film noir worlds in such features as Sadie McKee, Letty Lynton, Possessed (both versions), The Damned Don’t Cry, and Mildred Pierce. And The Women is the film where these two forces came together in a spectacular display of beauty, talent, and just plain DAYUM!!!

So whaddya think – is that enough of a pre-Code/film noir tie-in to merit coverage on the pages of Shadows and Satin?? I hope so. ‘Cause I love this movie so much I could marry it (or at least sleep with it), and I’ve been wanting to write about it for years!

Incidentally, if you’ve never seen The Women, its plot is a simple one – it’s about a housewife and mother who discovers that her husband is having an affair, and the impact that this reality has on her life and the lives of those around her. That’s it, in a nutshell. Doesn’t really sound too earth-shattering, does it? Well, trust me – it’s the shiz-nit. And here are the top 10 reasons why I love it so.

Nothing. But. Women.

Nothing. But. Women.

  1. There’s not a single male in the film – the cast is fairly busting at the seams and spilling over with dames – even the dogs and the horses were females!
  2. The opening credits, which depict each of the film’s stars as a different type of animal, provide a perfect tip-off of what’s to come. There’s altogether affable Mary Haines (Shearer) as a gentle deer. Her backstabbing cousin Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) as a hissing cat. Crystal Allen (Crawford) as a man-eating tiger. Mary’s mother (Lucile Watson) as a wise, wide-eyed owl. And so on. It’s so unique and inventive – I’ve never seen anything like it in any other film.

    The more I see this fashion show, the more I love it. It's kinda crazy.

    The more I see this fashion show, the more I love it. It’s kinda crazy.

  3. Smack-dab in the middle of everything, the movie comes to a screeching halt to offer up a Technicolor fashion show with outfits by famed designer Adrian. (Some – like esteemed TCM host Robert Osborne – are none too fond of this event, but I’m absolutely wild about it. It’s a little like a car wreck – you just can’t take your eyes off it!)

    I LOVE this scene. I cannot get enough of this scene. This is the BEST scene. (Or, one of them.)

    I LOVE this scene. I cannot get enough of this scene. This is the BEST scene. (Or, one of them.)

  4. For my money, Joan Crawford gives the performance of her career in this movie. I know that some people don’t appreciate Joan Crawford as an actress, but more as a movie star, but if you look carefully at her portrayal of the conscienceless man-stealer Crystal Allen in The Women, you will see that she could act her ASS off. I think my absolute favorite Crawford scene is the one where her character is talking to Steven Haines – Mary’s husband – on the phone, who has contacted her to cancel the night’s planned assignation. Crawford’s Crystal plays her lover like a fiddle once she realizes the reason for his call, at first telling him that the disappointment is “such good discipline for my selfishness about you,” then hinting that it’s her birthday, and finally playing the sympathy card by telling him about her “neuralgia” and the “rather gloomy letter” she’d gotten from her sister that day. And when she finally convinces Steven to keep their engagement, she hangs up the receiver and grouses to a co-worker, “Say, can you beat him? He almost stood me up for his wife!”

    Burn!

    Burn!

  5. The writing in the film is stellar. The screenplay is by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, based on the stage play by Clare Booth Luce (with uncredited assistance from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Donald Ogden Stewart). There are so many great lines that it would take an entire separate post to share them all. One of my all-time favorite exchanges, though, takes place in a dressing room, where Mary Haines is confronting Crystal. The two swap barbs, and just before Mary leaves, she snarkily advises Crystal to consider another outfit if she’s trying to impress Mary’s husband. “Thanks for the tip,” Crystal shoots back. “But when anything I wear doesn’t please Steven, I take it off!”

    Mayweather and Pacquiao didn't have nothin' on these two.

    Mayweather and Pacquiao didn’t have nothin’ on these two.

  6. The film includes a knock-down, drag-out cat fight, featuring Sylvia Fowler and Miriam Aarons (Paulette Goddard), a showgirl who is having an affair with Sylvia’s husband. The battle royale takes place on a dude ranch in Nevada, where Mary has gone to obtain a divorce. Sylvia shows up as well, and soon learns that her husband is divorcing her to marry Miriam. After Sylvia drags Miriam off her horse and Miriam retaliates by removing Sylvia’s glasses and slapping her across the face, it is ON – hair-pulling, clothes ripping, butt-kicking (literally), rolling in the dirt – even biting! Best. Fight. Ever. Even Lucy, the ranch’s caretaker, remarks, “Pretty well matched, ain’t they?”

    Your real friends will tell it  like it is.

    Your real friends will tell it like it is.

  7. Mary’s relationship with her friends – her true friends – is touching and real. There’s the naïve and innocent Peggy (Joan Fontaine), who admires and looks up to Mary; protective Nancy Blake (Florence Nash), a self-proclaimed “old maid – a frozen asset”; and Miriam Aarons, who talks to Mary with a raw but caring frankness, calling her a “blithering coward” for divorcing her husband. These are the friends who never delight in Mary’s misery, but instead serve as her unflagging support system, sounding board, and champion.

    Virginia Weidler was a standout as Little Mary.

    Virginia Weidler was a standout as Little Mary.

  8. Virginia Weidler turns in an extraordinary performance as Mary’s daughter, Little Mary. I’ve seen Weidler in several  films – Peter Ibbetson (1935), The Philadelphia Story (1940), All This, and Heaven, Too (1940) – but I love her best in this one. She’s at once spunky, snarky, touching, and shrewd. And in one particular scene, when she’s told that her parents are divorcing, she’s positively heart-shattering.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with the scene I described, but it's another favorite and I absolutely LOVE the beautiful colorization. (You're welcome.)

    This has absolutely nothing to do with the scene I described, but it’s another favorite and I absolutely LOVE the beautiful colorization. (You’re welcome.)

  9. The conversation between a woman and her young daughter, on the train to Reno, Nevada, for the woman’s divorce, is yet another reason why I love this movie. The little girl inquires whether her father will be coming to Reno, and she plaintively asks her mother where he is. The mother responds matter-of-factly: “I don’t know and I don’t care. In the future, you’ll please refer to him as ‘That heel.'”(I don’t know why, but this tickles me every time.)
  10. One of my favorite scenes (and honestly, I have so many I can’t even count them) has to do with an argument between Mary and Steven, after Mary’s confrontation with Crystal in the dressing room. But the film never shows us or even lets us hear the participants in this dispute. Instead, the spat is described by Mary’s maid, Jane (Muriel Hutchison), who runs upstairs to eavesdrop, and then dashes back down to the kitchen to share the latest with the cook, Maggie (Mary Cecil), who offers a running commentary. “You can’t trust none of them,” she says at one point, “no further than I can kick this lemon pie.” It’s a uniquely inventive way to depict a squabble in a manner that was far more entertaining than it would have been to see the real thing. For your viewing pleasure, here’s part of the scene:

 

The Women is a riveting look at friendship, love, deceit, envy, infidelity, gossip, passion, marriage, and divorce. It sings with biting dialogue, honest, true-life revelations, and moments of poignancy that can move you to tears. For me, it’s like comfort food – I watch it whenever I want to be cheered, soothed, diverted, or contented – and it’s always so delicious!

My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon 2If you’ve never experienced this movie, you really, really have a treat ahead. (I envy you!) And if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, I highly recommend that you dig it out, dust it off, and enjoy!

You only owe it to yourself.

* * * * * *

This post is part of the Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Film and TV Café . Click the banner on the right to check out the many awesome posts that are participating in this fabulous event!

 

Pre-Code Crazy: What Price Hollywood? (1931)

•May 2, 2015 • 10 Comments

SSWhat1In previous months, my Pre-Code Crazy pick has always been a film that I’ve seen numerous times before. And while I was initially quite certain that this month’s selection also fit into that category, it turns out that I’d actually never seen it before! Oh, I’d seen the film’s beginning countless times – I can’t tell you how often I’ve popped this movie in the VCR and snuggled under my bedcovers to watch it, only to drift off to dreamland after about 20 minutes. And yet, in my mind, it was a film I knew and knew well. So you can imagine my surprise – and, I might add, my delight! – to discover it for the first time just a few days ago.

What Price Hollywood film stars one of my pre-Code faves, Constance Bennett, and actor-turned-director Lowell Sherman who, for my money, gives his best performance here. Others in the cast include Neil Hamilton, Gregory Ratoff (that’s Max Fabian, for you All About Eve fans), Louise Beavers, and, in his feature film debut, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. As pre-Code films go, it’s not exactly overflowing with scandalous scenes and saucy situations, but it’s got enough substance abuse, out-of-wedlock babies, gratuitous shots of lingerie, and snappy comebacks to satisfy any fan.

Max and Mary meet.

Max and Mary meet.

What’s it all about?

Mary Evans (Bennett) is a waitress at the Brown Derby who wants nothing more than to become a movie star. She gets her big break when she catches the eye of Maximilian Carey (Sherman), a famous director with a lethal affinity for the bottle.

How does it begin?

Although it becomes increasingly dark, What Price Hollywood starts out on a lighthearted tone, as we see Mary Evans flipping through the pages of a movie magazine and copying the styles she sees there, from the silk stockings to the lipstick. When the desired effect is complete, she takes a moment to pose in the mirror with her face next to a magazine photo of Clark Gable. “Goodbye my dahling,” she coos in her best Greta Garbo accent.

Mary wows 'em at Grauman's.

Mary wows ’em at Grauman’s.

We quickly learn that Mary is determined to make it to the big screen: “You’ll see me in pictures someday,” she assures a couple of seniors who compliment her looks. Minutes later, when Max Carey enters the restaurant, she shrewdly bargains with a co-worker to switch serving stations: “I gave you Wallace Beery last week,” she reminds her. “I’m looking for a break – and I’m going to get it.” And she does, when she winds up escorting Max that very night to the premiere of his new film at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and charming the pants off of the listening radio audience, speaking to them as the “Duchess of Derby.” Before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Mary has gone from a single line in a bit part, to her name above the title. And that’s when the movie REALLY gets going!

My favorite thing about the movie:

Max and Mary shared an unbreakable bond.

Max and Mary shared an unbreakable bond.

The relationship between Mary and Max is an unusual one – I can’t recall ever seeing one quite like it depicted on screen. There’s no romance between them, even in the beginning; instead, they seem to be part of a mutual admiration society, with Mary appreciating Max’s talent as a director, and Max respecting Mary’s charm and determination. As time goes on and the relationship deepens, Mary looks after Max much like a mother would – worrying about him, forgiving his foibles, encouraging his possibilities, speaking on his behalf, bailing him (sometimes literally) out of jams. She never forgets that it was Max who was responsible for her big break, and no matter the cost, she never abandons him. There’s no doubt that Mary and Max truly love each other – they share a touching and heart-tugging bond that provides the film’s heart and soul.

Favorite lines:

Who are you calling cheap and vulgar, Commissioner Gordon?

Who are you calling cheap and vulgar, Commissioner Gordon?

I have four:

“Every hour that you’re out of jail, you’re away from home.” Max  Carey (Lowell Sherman)

“I bet they count the silver every time you eat here.” Max Carey (Lowell Sherman)

“Work and I haven’t been on speaking terms for quite some time.” Max Carey (Lowell Sherman)

“You live in a world where people are cheap and vulgar without knowing it. And if you weren’t cheap and vulgar yourself, you couldn’t stand it.” Lonny Borden (Neil Hamilton)

This ‘n’ That:

The film was directed by George Cukor, who also helmed such pre-Code gems as Girls About Town (1931) with Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman; Tarnished Lady (1931), starring Tallulah Bankhead; and the star-studded Dinner at Eight (1933).

What Price Hollywood is akin in several ways to A Star is Born – in fact, four years after the release of the film, producer David O. Selznick reportedly asked George Cukor to direct the original A Star is Born (1937) and Cukor refused because of the two films were so much alike. RKO even considered filing suit against Selznick International Pictures because of the similarities, but they eventually decided against it. Interestingly, Cukor went on to direct the 1954 version of A Star is Born, with Judy Garland and James Mason.

The Case of the Disappearing Script.

The Case of the Disappearing Script.

Watch for this goof in the scene where Mary is rehearsing her single line for her screen debut. Before she begins, she drops her script behind her and it falls to the stairs, but seconds later, the script is gone.

Selznick originally wanted to cast Clara Bow in the role of Mary, but by the time he convinced studio execs that Bow was the right choice, the diminutive actress had made another commitment.

The film very cleverly uses items in a gossip column – “You Ask Me!” – to move the plot along.

Jane Murfin and Adela Rogers St. Johns earned an Oscar nomination for Best Story, but lost to their fellow writer on the distaff side, Francis Marion, for The Champ. St. Johns loosely based the plot on the lives of actress Colleen Moore and her husband, alcoholic producer John McCormick, as well as ill-fated directors Tom Forman and Marshall “Mickey” Nielan.

The film depicts Mary’s wedding, a sensationalized affair characterized by throngs of fans and countless members of the press. When the happy couple emerges from the church, Mary is attacked by the crowd, who tear at her gown and veil. It’s said that this scene was based on the real-life 1927 nuptials of Vilma Banky and Rod La Rocque.

Lowell used Barrymore as a model.

Lowell used Barrymore as a model.

In his characterization of an alcoholic, Lowell Sherman drew upon the behavior of his then-brother-in-law, John Barrymore. (Lowell was married for a brief time to Helene Costello, younger sister of Barrymore’s wife, Dolores Costello.) Sherman landed his first gig as a director in 1930; he went on to direct She Done Him Wrong (1933), Morning Glory (1933), and Born to Be Bad (1934). Of acting, he once said:  “Nothing becomes so monotonous as acting on the stage, especially if you are successful … working in the movies seemed even duller.”

More on Sherman: he died of double pneumonia at the age of 49, just a few years after the release of this film, in 1934. At the time he fell ill, he was directing Miriam Hopkins in Becky Sharp, the first picture to be shot completely in the three-color Technicolor technique.

The original title for the film was The Truth About Hollywood.

With its fascinating insider’s look at the film industry, the way movies are made, and the public face and private effects of screen stardom, What Price Hollywood is quite simply a must-see. There’s never a dull moment, and both Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman turn in some of the finest work of their acting careers. Do yourself a huge favor and tune into TCM on May 28th to check it out. I promise you won’t be sorry.

You only owe it to yourself.

——

When you’re finished over here, be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what Kristina has selected for her Pre-Code Crazy pick of the month!

 

The CMBA Blogathon — The Fabulous Films of the 1930s: Men Call It Love (1931)

•April 26, 2015 • 25 Comments
Jack, Connie, and Tony. Jack, Connie, and Tony. Don't let the smiles fool ya. This ain't exactly the Gleesome Threesome.

Jack, Connie, and Tony. Don’t let the smiles fool ya. This ain’t exactly the Gleesome Threesome.

Three observations about Men Call It Love.

  1. It’s a rather ambiguous title, isn’t it? WHAT do they call love? Why do they call it that? What do women call it?
  2. It’s not well-known in the world of pre-Code; I’d wager that a poll of classic film lovers – even those with a special affinity for pre-Code – would turn up only a handful who’ve even heard of it.
  3. And its cast doesn’t boast any high-powered, widely recognized names. The most familiar performer is Adolphe Menjou, and he’s not exactly in the same realm as such pre-Code favorites as Warren William, Robert Montgomery, or William Powell.

These considerations notwithstanding, I’m here to say that I’m simply wild about this movie and cannot get enough of it.

What’s it all about?

Men Call It Love focuses on a blissfully married couple, Jack and Connie Mills, whose happiness is threatened from a number of quarters, for a number of reasons. (Proceed gingerly – spoilers abound – but they won’t ruin the movie for you, should you have the opportunity to see it. I promise!) First off, Connie hears a rumor that her husband had an affair with a “Follies” girl. He denies it, emphatically, and she believes him – but in actuality, it’s true. Then there’s Tony Minot, a womanizing golf pro who has set his sights on Connie – though everyone seems to realize it except her. And finally, into the mix comes the married but miserable Helen Robinson, who, having recently ended a fling with Tony, decides that she’d next like to sample Jack’s wares. (If you know what I mean.) Ultimately, of course, all’s well with our couple – but not without some serious bumps in the road and a near matrimonial dead end. All things considered, Men Call It Love is a fascinating look at marriage, divorce, fidelity, virtue, morality, and honor – and all that those concepts entail.

The Characters

One of the most captivating aspects of the film, for me, is not the twisty-tangly plot – which certainly grabs and holds your interest – but the characters who inhabit it. They are each multidimensional and intriguing in their own way, and serve to make this film a must-see.

Leila Hyams as the beautiful but oh-so-naive Connie.

Leila Hyams as the beautiful but oh-so-naive Connie.

Connie (Leila Hyams)

The most wholesome and righteous female I’ve seen in many a pre-Code, Connie is fairly brimming with goodness and believes everyone else is, as well. When her friend, Callie (Hedda Hopper) merrily broadcasts at a party that her divorce has just become final, Connie concludes that Callie has too much pride to let her friends see her pain – it’s practically impossible for Connie to conceive that a woman would be happy about the end of her marriage. When Connie’s told by Helen, in no uncertain terms, that Tony has designs on her, she laughs it off, convinced that he is only interested in helping her to improve her golf game. And when Connie hears the rumor about Jack’s affair, she is easily convinced by her oh-so-earnest husband that it is a mere misunderstanding. “I’ve got to believe you,” Connie tells him. “You mustn’t blame me for being so silly. It’s just because I love you so much, that’s all.” It’s not until Connie literally catches her husband in the act that she’s not only forced to see Jack for what he really is, but also to re-examine and reformulate her own beliefs and values.

Jack (Norman Foster)

On the surface, Jack is a loving husband, devoted to his sweetly fetching wife, and absolutely thrilled to be a married man. But underneath, he’s not quite such a sterling character. We already know that he has had (and may even still be having) an affair, and later, when Connie leaves the house to attend an overnight party, all it takes is a visit from a beautiful woman and a few cocktails, and he’s off to the races again. Despite his dalliances, though, Jack is still a likable character – he clearly does love his wife, and it’s not as if he seeks out other women; he just seems to lack the capacity to fend them off. What’s more, he seems to be a bit clueless when it comes to the reasons why infidelity is completely unacceptable. He understands that it’s something that you’re supposed to hide from your wife, but he seems a less clear that it’s something that shouldn’t happen at all. After Connie walks in on him (we presume in bed) with another woman, we naturally expect him to tell her that he wishes the entire episode had never happened, but instead, he says, “I’d have given anything if I could have lied successfully again.” (Seriously.) And in another scene that provides an illuminating glimpse into his character, Jack advises a friend that he should never, ever apologize to his wife – even if it turns out that he’s wrong. It’s not until much later, after his marriage disintegrates and Connie asks him for a divorce, that Jack’s eyes seem to be truly opened. We hope.

Tony Minot (Adolphe Menjou)

Tony would like to do more than teach Connie about her swing. If you know what I mean.

Tony would like to do more than teach Connie about her swing. If you know what I mean.

Suave and sophisticated, and supremely confident in his effect on the opposite sex, Tony appears to be the “love ‘em and leave ‘em” type, with little regard to whether the woman is married or not – a friend jokes that he has another job in addition to his golf career: “Jumping out of bedroom windows.” But like Jack, who turns out to be quite different from the decent, honorable man that he appears, Tony, too, is not all that he initially seems. For instance, while Tony makes it clear that he has his eye on Jack’s wife, he doesn’t actively pursue her (“I am interested in Connie, or I would be if I had any encouragement,” he tells Jack) – in fact, he even reminds Jack how fortunate he is to have a wife like Connie and sternly admonishes him for “playing around with a Follies girl.” And though Tony doesn’t object when, on the rebound from Jack, Connie turns to him, he soon realizes that Connie doesn’t have what it takes to engage in an affair (“I’m not a very good bad woman,” she concludes) and allows her to stay in his apartment while he nobly spends the night at his club. Not only that, but when Tony is finally able to convince Connie to ask Jack for a divorce and marry him, he turns out to be a knight in shining armor, bowing out when he recognizes that Connie and Jack are still – despite their actions – very much in love.

Helen Robinson (Mary Duncan)

Helen is probably the most despicable – but fascinating – character in the film. She divides her time between publicly humiliating her weak-willed husband, Joe (Robert Emmett Keane), and hopping from man to man. In the film’s first scene, at a swank party, her husband falls ill from a case of indigestion. When Connie finds Helen and tells her, Helen responds, “I know what I should do with him, but it would be just my luck to get a jury of women.” Later, when Joe hints that he knows she’s having an affair with Tony, Helen reacts with righteous indignation and – even though he was right on the money – heatedly insists that he apologize for the slight. (And he does!) And in case you hadn’t already guessed, the woman who Connie discovered “in flagrante delicto” with Jack? None other than Helen. Oh, she didn’t arrive at his house intending to wind up in his bed, but when she (1) discovered Connie was gone and that (2) Jack was serving cocktails, all bets were off. After a couple of drinks, Helen was all over him like a duck on a junebug: “You know something, Jack – you’re interesting! I think you’re charming,” Mary exclaims. “I never thought of you like this before. You were just always Connie’s husband.”

Those lines . . . oh! Those lines!

In addition to the fabulous characters, Men Call It Love contains the kind of pre-Code dialogue that leaves you with your mouth hanging open in astonished delight. Here’s what I mean:

  • At the party that Callie throws to announce her divorce, Helen Robinson is playing a game of bridge, but leaves the table when her husband starts to display signs of a stomach upset. Helen encounters Callie and asks her if she can provide Joe with some bicarbonate of soda. “Either that or a little prussic acid,” Helen jokingly suggests as an alternative, and the two women laugh and laugh. (For those of you who don’t know what prussic acid is, it’s a colorless, extremely poisonous liquid. Hilarious!) Later, when Joe first complains that his heart is beating too rapidly, and then fears that it’s not beating at all, Helen rejoins, “Can I depend on that?”
  • After Callie and her new ex-spouse, Henry (Cosmo Kyrle Bellew), publicly shared the news about their divorce, Callie’s gal pals rush to her with cries of congratulations, and Henry’s friends bombard him, concerned primarily that the split “doesn’t give us any place to go weekends!”

    Hmm. Nobody's smiling any more.

    Hmm. Nobody’s smiling any more.

  • Tony gives Jack and Connie a ride home after the party and invites himself in for a drink. Alone with Tony, Jack asks him why he’s really there, stating, “You and I don’t like each other. You know that.” Tony feigns bewilderment, and says he didn’t know that. And Jack responds, “Well, you know it now.” (Burn!) Jack goes on to tell Tony that he knows Tony has the hots for Connie, adding, “And your interest in Connie doesn’t interest me. In other words, how would you like to get the blazes out of here?” (Incidentally, Jack has an ever-so-pleasant smile on his face during this entire conversation – but if looks could kill, Tony would be on his way to the morgue.)
  • In a women’s locker room, following a day on the golf course, we see Callie tuning up to share some juicy gossip with a friend. Before she does, she calls out the name of Helen Robinson several times. Helen appears from around the corner, and asks if Callie was looking for her. “No, darling,” Callie retorts, “I just wanted to make sure you were here before I started talking about you.”
  • In that same locker room, a woman emerges from the dressing area with her sweater stuck over her head. She laughingly says that she’s suffocating, and calls out for assistance. “It depends on who it is,” responds one locker room patron. “I know 20 women I’d love to see suffocate.”
  • Callie invites Connie to her house for another weekend party, and Connie says she’ll have to check first with Jack, as he might have other plans. “If he has, bring somebody else’s husband!” Callie suggests. Overhearing, Helen asks if she can bring someone else’s husband instead of her own, and Callie tells her, “You don’t have to, darling. You’ll grab somebody else’s husband the minute you get there.”
  • When Helen shows up unexpectedly at Jack’s house, she tells him that she and her husband have had another fight and that he’ll be attending the party at Callie’s alone. She also shares that her jubilance is not the result of alcohol: “That’s just the natural result of knowing I shan’t see Joe for three days!”

    Girl, please. Could you BE more obvious?

    Girl, please. Could you BE more obvious?

  • After a few cocktails with Helen, Jack starts talking about the sport of boxing, and sharing that he used to be an amateur fighter. “Let me feel your muscle,” Helen coos. “Oooh, it’s just like iron!” A few seconds later, she’s removing her sweater, commenting, “I’m warm, aren’t you?”
  • A little later, still at Jack’s, Helen tosses all subtlety to the four winds and goes for broke: “Don’t you want to play around with me this evening, Jack? Oh, we’d have a marvelous time!” she proposes. “We can dine where no one will see us – I know just the place. The best things to drink and Hawaiian music. Outdoors, under the moon. Ah, just think, Jack – a summer’s night tossed our way! Don’t you want to catch it? Please say you do. Please.”
  • After Connie spends the night at Tony’s apartment, Jack assumes that she wants her freedom and will seek a divorce. “Why?” Connie asks. “To marry some other man so he can do the same things you’ve done? No, Jack . . . You’ll play around as much as you like, and so will I.” (Whoa!)

Random Other Stuff:

This was my first time seeing a film featuring Mary Duncan, who played Helen Robinson. It turns out that she was only in 16 films; she retired from the big screen in 1933, after she married Stephen Sanford, an international polo star and director of the Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Company, the first carpet mill in America. She devoted much of her time to fundraising activities for a number of charities and became a prominent member of Palm Beach society. Duncan died at the age of 98 in 1993.

Men Call It Love was based on a play, Among the Married, which was produced on Broadway in 1929. It closed after just 44 performances. The cast included Frank Morgan (of The Wizard of Oz fame) as Jack.

The cast of the film included Hedda Hopper, several years before she left acting behind and became a well-known gossip columnist, renowned for her fanciful hats.

The film was directed by Edgar Selwyn, who went on to helm The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931) and Skyscraper Souls (1932). He also wrote the play that was the basis for the film Possessed (1931), which starred Joan Crawford and Clark Gable. In 1916, Selwyn and his brother, Archibald, teamed up with producer Samuel Goldfish to create the Goldwyn Pictures Corp. Goldfish liked the name so much that he adopted it as his own, becoming Samuel Goldwyn. A few years later, Goldwyn left the company to become an independent producer, and Goldwyn Pictures eventually merged with Metro Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Productions to become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) – the studio that made Men Call It Love.

The Bottom Line

I wish that Men Call It Love were better known – it’s simply overflowing with high-society shenanigans that have to be seen to be believed. Mix together the story, the characters, the performances, and the dialogue, and you’ve got a recipe for a first-rate entry from the pre-Code era. (And, boy, is it tasty!) The film isn’t on DVD, but it does air from time to time on TCM – to see a five-minute clip, click below.  And if you ever get the chance to check out the whole picture, be sure you do – it’s a pip!

You only owe it to yourself.

This post is part of the Fabulous Films of the 30s Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Click the banner below to check out the many awesome posts that are participating in this fabulous event!

The Great Villain Blogathon: It’s a Wrap

•April 18, 2015 • 1 Comment

The Great Villain Blogathon: Day 5 Recap

•April 17, 2015 • 6 Comments

As they say on Schoolhouse Rock, darn . . . that’s the end. But don’t hate — celebrate! On the last day of the Great Villain Blogathon, 2015 style, click the pics below to read about today’s totally awesome crop of dastardly dames, charming creeps, and scary scalawags!

CJC Leach discusses Trevor Howard’s cad-like behavior in Brief Encounter:

Prowler Takes a Jump tells us about the irresistibly bad Stanley in In This Our Life:

Aurora’s Gin Joint scares us with insights about Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter:

Random Pictures goes to pieces over Victor Frankenstein in Flesh for Frankenstein:

Font and Frock delves into the deeds of Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger in Blanche Fury:

Portraits by Jenni knows that Ma Jarrett isn’t as kindly as she looks in White Heat:

Tales of the Easily Distracted tells us why Nick Ferraro is not a guy to play with in His Kind of Woman:

Ramblings of a Cinephile reveals the scary and disturbing Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland:

Movie Classics shows that Anton Walbrook and Charles Boyer were both pretty awful fellas in Gaslight:

A Shroud of Thoughts takes a look at the many faces of Blofield in the James Bond series:

The Filmatelist discusses the evil that is Voldemort in the Harry Potter series:

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies examines the evil twins played by Bette Davis and Olivia deHavilland in A Stolen Life and The Dark Mirror:

Dell on Movies explains the villainy of Batman in The Dark Knight:

Movie Fan Fare takes a look at Walter Brennan in The Westerner and My Darling Clementine:

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In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood exposes the bad side of Bette Davis in In This Our Life:

And Outspoken and Freckled waxes poetic about the charming villainy of Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds:

That’s all, folks! Be sure to visit Speakeasy tomorrow for a wrap-up of the entire week of fantastic posts that were contributed for the 2015 Great Villain Blogathon!

 
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