Pre-Code Crazy: The Eagle and the Hawk (1933)

•March 11, 2018 • 8 Comments

If you tune in to The Eagle and the Hawk (1933) on March 25th because you’re a huge Carole Lombard fan, let me give you a tip. Lombard is in the film, but her role is small; she’s on screen less than 10 minutes, tops.  But if you want to see a riveting pre-Code starring two first-rate actors near the starts of their respective successful careers, you won’t be sorry.

The film’s three stars – Fredric March, Cary Grant and Jack Oakie – are introduced in the opening credits in a sequence that reminded me of The Women (1939), in a manner that gives you a clue to the character’s persona. We see March’s Jerry Young looking refined and upper-crusty during a polo match; Grant, as Henry Crocker, grimly overseeing a field of workmen (and inexplicably gifting one of them with a right hook to the jaw); and Oakie’s character, Mike Richards, gleefully stuffing his face with a hearty sandwich, just before playing one of those penny fortune machines, which spits out the ominous message: “You will soon be facing great danger.”

These two weren’t exactly BFFs.

The film is set during World War I and Jerry, Henry and Mike are members of the Royal Air Force. We soon learn that while Jerry is a top-notch pilot, Henry’s not quite so talented in that area. In fact, when the men in their squadron receive orders to head for France, Henry’s left off the list – at Jerry’s behest. “You’re the best gunner in the bunch,” Jerry tells him. “But you’re gonna kill yourself if you keep trying to fly.” Jerry’s honesty earns him a knock-down punch from the embittered, hot-headed Henry.

Once in France, Jerry is immediately dispatched to the air, charged with flying through rival territory while his observer-cum-gunner, seated in the rear cockpit, takes aerial photographs and engages in gun battles with enemy aircraft. Back on land after making it through his first flight, Henry’s jubilance is quickly dampened when he realizes that his gunner was killed during the mission.

Jack Oakie was on hand to provide some much-needed comic relief.

In the next two months, Jerry loses four more gunners during his missions, and grows increasingly disturbed by his experiences, telling a superior: “I didn’t expect to be a chauffeur for a graveyard – driving men to their death day after day!” It only makes matters worse when Jerry receives a medal for his valor, and is presented as a shining example to future flyers. “We’re telling them, ‘Be like Young,’” Jerry’s commander proclaims.

Later, Jerry learns that his most recently departed gunner is being replaced by his old compatriot, Henry Crocker, who arrives on the base with a spiteful disposition and a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. We learn that Henry knows all about the fate of Jerry’s previous five gunners, and that he’d volunteered to ride with Jerry. “I heard about you and your medal. I wanted to see how you did it. And how long you could keep on doing it,” Henry says nastily. “I was just wondering how long you’d go on before your nerves would go to pieces.”

Jerry and “The Beautiful Woman.”

As Henry predicted, Jerry becomes further unhinged, drinking more and more with every death he witnesses and suffering nightmares that leave him screaming out in his sleep. Meanwhile, Henry begins to develop a grudging respect and appreciation for his partner, even cooking up a savvy scheme to earn Jerry a 10-day leave. It’s on that leave that Jerry meets a glamorous but sensitive and understanding woman who observes his growing unease at a party where he’s constantly reminded of the horrors he left behind. She winds up sharing a bottle of champagne with him in the park, encouraging him to reveal the thoughts and feelings that he’s kept bottled inside throughout the war. “I thought it was like a game – polo, or something like that. And then the first time I went up, I brought down a plane and that started it,” he tells the woman (who is credited only as “The Beautiful Lady.”) “Somebody slapped me on the back and told me I was great and I had to go on. More planes. More dead men. More medals. There isn’t any end.”

Speaking of the end, I’m not going to share any more – you’ll need to see for yourself what happens with The Eagle and the Hawk. But I will say this: this movie is harrowing, moving, sad and unforgettable, with amazing performances from both Fredric March and Cary Grant. It’s sometimes hard to watch, and it’s definitely hard to stop thinking about after the credits roll, but it’s a truly excellent film.

Don’t miss it. March 25th on TCM. You only owe it to yourself.

——–

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

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

•February 25, 2018 • 8 Comments

Gene Tierney was an outstanding Laura — but she wasn’t the first choice.

As the rapidly passing days on the calendar would indicate (can you believe it’s nearly March already?!??), it’s almost time for this year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival – and time for another installment in my monthly look at the 2017 event! This time I’m covering the screening of the nitrate version of the film noir classic, Laura (1944).

I confess that before the festival’s films were announced, I’d never heard of nitrate, and had no idea what all the hubbub was about. In fact, I originally didn’t even plan to attend the screening – Laura was presented at the same time as one of my favorite pre-Code comedies, Twentieth Century (1934), and I’d almost decided to definitely spend my evening with Lombard and Barrymore when all the nitrate buzz turned my head and changed my schedule.

Cellulose nitrate was first used as a base for photographic roll film by George Eastman in 1889 and was the dominant motion picture medium from 1895 to 1948. It was renowned for the beauty and clarity of its images, but it was found to gradually decompose and it was highly flammable. The vast majority of films produced in the early 1900s are thought to have been lost because of decomposition or through studio warehouse fires. In 1948, Eastman Kodak launched cellulose triacetate as a safe film replacement for nitrate film, and by 1951, production of nitrate 35 mm motion picture film had ceased.

The portrait of Laura was actually a painted photograph.

At the film festival, Laura was introduced by Randy Haberkamp, Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He shared with the packed crowd in the Egyptian Theater several “fun things” about Laura, including that it was written first as a play, then as a novel, then a play again, and then a movie, all in the span of about five years. Also, the title role portrayed by Gene Tierney was originally to be played by Jennifer Jones. Hedy Lamarr and Rosalind Russell were also considered for the part. The famed painting of Laura was actually a photograph that had been painted over. And Vincent Price – who played loafer Shelby Carpenter – was supposed to do a musical number!

“I think it’s so great that we are here in Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theater – he was referred to as a showman,” Haberkamp said. “Nitrate had a very special image. It’s flammable, so it was a dangerous thing, but it was also a beautiful thing. Nitrate is something that is of the past, but we are going to hold on to it in this festival.”

Nitrate: it sparkles!

According to Haberkamp, the term “silver screen” came from the look of nitrate film. “It sparkles – it has illuminosity,” he said. “It’s like going to hear somebody sing live instead of listening to a really well engineered recording. You’re seeing the filmmakers’ original vision.”

Two of my fellow bloggers – Lara and Diana– both offered up their first-hand experiences with viewing the nitrate copy of Laura at the TCM film festivals. Enjoy their thoughts on their blogs, Backlots and Flickin’ It.

And stay tuned for the next installment of Revisiting Adventures in Paradise!

List o’ the Week: My Favorite Pre-Code Actresses

•February 18, 2018 • 22 Comments

Can’t get enough of Norma Shearer and The Divorcee.

Today’s List o’ the Week is an easy one – my Top 20 favorite pre-Code actresses.

Because I couldn’t possibly rank them in order of how much I love them (Stanwyck vs. Crawford vs. Blondell vs. Shearer!?!? Come ON!), I put them in alphabetical order. And to spice things up a bit, I listed my favorite pre-Code film in which each appeared (which was no cakewalk, let me tell you!)

Here goes:

1.  Constance Bennett: The Easiest Way (1931)

2.  Joan Blondell: Blondie Johnson (1933)

3.  Nancy Carroll: Hot Saturday (1932)

4.  Ruth Chatterton: Lilly Turner (1933)

5.  Mae Clarke: Waterloo Bridge (1931)

6.  Joan Crawford: Possessed (1931)

7.  Ann Dvorak: Three on a Match (1932)

8.  Kay Francis: Mandalay (1934)

9.  Ann Harding: Double Harness (1933)

10. Jean Harlow: Bombshell (1933)

11. Miriam Hopkins: Design for Living (1933)

12. Leila Hyams: Men Call It Love (1931)

13. Carole Lombard: Twentieth Century (1934)

14. Anita Page: Under Eigheen (1931)

15. Dorothy Mackaill: The Reckless Hour (1931)

16. Ginger Rogers: Upperworld (1934)

17. Norma Shearer: The Divorcee (1931)

18. Barbara Stanwyck: Night Nurse (1931)

19. Helen Twelvetrees: Millie (1931)

20. Loretta Young: Born to Be Bad (1934)

Who are your favorite pre-Code actresses and films?

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

•January 24, 2018 • 4 Comments

The anticipation builds . . .

It’s about that time – time for another installment in my monthly look at the 2017 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival! And this month I’m taking a look at one of my favorite experiences of the festival – the Hand and Footprint Ceremony featuring Carl Reiner and his son, Rob.

(Before I dive into my reporting of the actual event, let me just say that in order to be allowed to cover it as a member of the media, I had to submit a special request – which was turned down. BUT, an angel appeared in the form of my fellow blogger and pal, Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, who allowed me to attend in her stead. I’ll be forever grateful. Forever.)

The ceremony involves the placing of the honorees’ hands and feet in cement, to be installed in the forecourt at what I will always know as Grauman’s Chinese Theater. This year’s event was impressively peppered with a number of celebrities who were on hand as special guests – Kevin Nealon, Cary Elwes (who’s still as gorgeous as he was as Wesley in The Princess Bride), Norman Lear, and Barbara Bain (who literally walked right in front of me. I mean, I could have pulled her ponytail as she passed by – that’s how close she was. Not that I would have done that. Of course.) And that’s not all! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Billy Crystal was a delight, as usual.

TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz opened the ceremony, telling the gathered audience of media and lucky passholders that “few fathers and sons are as accomplished as Carl and Rob Reiner, and none are as funny. Carl’s version of slowing down is writing just one book a year.”

Also at the event were Carl Reiner’s longtime friend Tom Bergeron, who called his pal “humor’s greatest blessing,” and Rob Reiner’s BFF Billy Crystal. Crystal recalled that when he was a new comedian in 1975, he had a gig at L.A.’s Comedy Store and Carl Reiner and Norman Lear were in the audience. After Crystal’s set, Carl introduced himself and two weeks later, Norman Lear offered him a part in an All in the Family episode, playing the best friend of Rob Reiner’s character.

“In the rehearsal, I was watching Rob and the seeds of what would become a great director,” said Crystal, who would later be directed by Rob Reiner in The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally. “He always has the perfect answer as a director: ‘Let’s try it.’”

The Reiners’ mutual regard was heartwarming and smile-inducing.

Crystal had the honor of introducing Carl and Rob Reiner, whose obvious love and high regard for each other was beyond heartwarming – it makes me smile, even now, to remember their mutual displays of affection. “I’ve known this guy almost all of his life,” Carl Reiner jokingly said of his son, adding that he has three favorite films that he likes to share with others:  The Count of Monte Cristo, Random Harvest, and The Princess Bride. “And this has nothing to do with the fact that Rob is my son,” Carl said. “Any time you feel low, put on The Princess Bride and you’ll go away smiling.”

Hope to be back for the 2018 ceremony!

“I think we should not only put our hands and feet in the cement,” Rob Reiner jested. “We should also put our bald heads.” On a more serious note, Rob went on to share why the ceremony meant so much to him: “We are the first father and son to do this together at the same time, and also, my father was my idol. He stood for everything I wanted to be in life.”

I hope to be able to cover many hand and footprint ceremonies at TCM film fests in the coming years, but this one will always hold a very special place in my heart. It was truly a highlight of the festival for me.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Revisiting Adventures in Paradise! And in the meantime, enjoy a few more of my pictures from this memorable event!

Barbara Bain. (She walked right in front of me!)

Tom Bergeron is a close friend of Carl Reiner’s. (And I’ve been a Bergeron fan since Fox After Breakfast!)

Norman Lear is the coolest.

Rob Reiner planting his feet in the cement.

And Kevin Nealon was on hand!

Cary Elwes. Still a heartstopper.

 

Pre-Code Crazy: Millie (1931)

•January 15, 2018 • 7 Comments

I don’t remember the first time I heard the name “Helen Twelvetrees,” but for many years she was, for me, just an unfamiliar actress from the 1930s with an interesting name – like Gwili Andre or Jobyna Ralston. I never really thought about seeing her in a film, or even trying to.

And then came Millie.

I’m not even sure how I came across this movie, but I fell in love with Helen Twelvetrees the first time I saw it, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Millie opens on the campus of Willows University, and only a couple of seconds pass before we know that the title character is one hot mama. We discover this because a group of college lads are in a local diner when a car approaches, and when one fella speculates that Millie’s in the car, the six of them practically perform a circus act just to wave as she passes. (“Boy, what a qualifier she is,” one boy exclaims, “and just rarin’ to go!”)

Millie wasn’t exactly batting a thousand when it came to picking men.

When we meet her for ourselves, we quickly discover that although Millie is a free spirited, fun-loving girl (“I want excitement! I want to live to go everywhere and see everything and do everything!”), she’s still an old-fashioned girl at heart – when her date, Jack Maitland (James Hall), suggests that she accompany him to New York, she doesn’t give it a moment’s consideration until she realizes that Jack is proposing marriage. And she’s not the worldly wise dame she’d like others to think she is. After their ceremony at the Justice of the Peace, she and her new hubby check in at a roadside hotel and poor Millie looks like she may pass out any second – especially when she catches a glimpse of the bed. She’s really just a sweet, young girl on the inside, who insists on calling her mother to tell her the news, and then can’t stop crying.

Fast forward three years, and Millie’s a wealthy but unhappy wife and mother to a small daughter whose governess whisks her away after allowing Millie just a few minutes with her each day. Her husband is remote and constantly leaving town “for business,” and Millie has transformed into a whiny, pitiful creature, begging her husband for more passionate kisses and constantly referencing the way their lives used to be.  (Of course, it doesn’t help that her husband is a rather officious ass whose appeal I was unable to discern even when she first married him. But I digress.)

This look says “What the hell?!?”

Millie gets a reprieve from her listless existence when she gets a call from Angie Wickerstaff (the always wonderful Joan Blondell), a hometown chum, who invites Millie out for cocktails with her and another girlfriend, Helen Riley (Lilyan Tashman). Unfortunately, the outing turns out to be more than Millie bargained for when she spots her husband there, billing and cooing with another woman. You won’t be surprised to see that Millie is devastated by the discovery – but I’ll bet you won’t be expecting to see her confront her husband’s side chick and clock her on the jaw!

All of this happens in the first 20 minutes of this hour-and-a-half long film, and believe me when I tell you that there’s a whole lot more drama, pathos, and are-you-kidding-me moments ahead. But I’m going to let you discover them for yourself – tune in to TCM on January 22nd.

And in the meantime, here’s some trivial tidbits to tide you over:

Blondell and Tashman. A winning combination.

  • Joan Blondell and Lilyan Tashman steal pretty much every scene they’re in. Many reviews of this film assert with confidence that their characters are lesbians, but I just don’t see it. Just because they live together and, in their first scene, are in the same bed – I mean, really? But whatever. I just thought I’d point that out. And while I’m pointing things out, if you know me at all, you might know that I’m a ginormous Lilyan Tashman fan. If you’d like to read more about her life on and off the screen, click here.
  • Four of the film’s stars Twelvetrees, Tashman, James Hall, and Robert Ames – and the director, John Francis Dillon, all died before the age of 50. Isn’t that weird?
  • Speaking of the director, Dillon directed Clara Bow in the unforgettable Call Her Savage (1932). If you’ve never seen this one, do your best to track it down. It has to be seen to be believed. He also directed The Reckless Hour, starring Dorothy Mackaill, which was the first film I selected for the Pre-Code Crazy series when Kristina and I started it more than three years ago. (Three years ago!?!? That’s crazy. Pre-Code crazy, if you will.)

    And don’t forget about Female!

  • The film was based on a novel written in 1931 by Donald Henderson Clarke. Clarke also wrote Female, which was made into a film starring Ruth Chatterton in 1933. According to numerous sources I found on the Internet, the novel Female was declared obscene by the New York Supreme Court, a decision that was upheld on appeal. What I couldn’t find was exactly what that meant. It certainly didn’t stop the movie from being made, so. . .

Be sure to tune in to Millie on TCM January 22nd you won’t be sorry!  and don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what gem Kristina is recommending for the month!

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

•December 30, 2017 • 9 Comments

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s the perfect time for my next entry in my ongoing look at this year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. And what better topic than one of the first events I attended – “Remembering Robert,” which was presented on April 6, 2017, exactly one month after the passing of TCM icon Robert Osborne, described during the event as “the face, the voice, and the heart and soul of TCM.”

“Remembering Robert” featured heartfelt remembrances from numerous network staffers, including TCM host Ben Mankiewicz; Osborne’s longtime director Ann Wilson; Gary Friedman, who produced Osborne’s intros; and Charlie Tabesh, head of programming, as well as one of Osborne’s oldest and closest friends, actress Diane Baker. Mankiewicz, who labeled Osborne as “distinguished, funny, unfairly charming and smart as hell,” started things off by introducing a brief video that used to air before Osborne spoke in front of a crowd – it was both hilarious and touching and served as the perfect kickoff to the event.

Diane Baker shares memories of her close friend.

Diane Baker told the packed theater how she first met Osborne – she’d been living with her parents in San Fernando Valley and Osborne lived near her. She was testing for a Fox contract and someone suggested that she do the scene with Osborne. He later joked with Baker that her voice during the test was so high that “dogs can hear it.”

“He was just a nice guy,” Baker said. “They guy next door that you want to see and be with.” Baker also shared with the audience her last visit with Osborne, shortly before he died. “I knew this was going to be the last time I was going to see him,” she said. “He said, ‘No sad songs for me. I’ve had a great life. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful life. So don’t be sad.’ So I’m trying real hard.”

Several staffers recalled how much they had learned from Osborne – Gary Friedman said that “no one has taught me more about art and film and culture,” and Ben Mankiewicz shared that he learned that “imitating [Osborne] would be a catastrophe.”

A packed crowd showed up to pay homage to our beloved Robert Osborne.

“What you saw on the air from Robert was Robert,” Mankiewicz said. “There was this authenticity that came through the television screen. Robert showed me that being yourself is the best possible way to connect with a fan base that craves authenticity and sniffs out phonies.”

Osborne was also remembered for his extensive expertise and his respect for the stars of yesteryear. Charlie Tabesh said that Osborne’s knowledge of classic film made him “the real deal,” and VP of Talent Darcy Hettrich stated that there was “a humanity to him – he cared about the stars that Hollywood had basically forgotten. They saw in him a true respect and love for what they did. For me it was such a pleasure and an honor to find talent for him. It was a glorious 23 years with him.”

One of Osborne’s favorite stars in his favorite movie.

In addition to the tributes and reminiscences, several fun facts about Osborne were shared, like his fondness for TV’s Judge Judy, who once served as a guest programmer; his excitement over meeting actor Jean-Paul Belmondo at the second TCM film festival; and his particular love for films of the 1940s, stars Gene Tierney, William Holden and Susan Hayward, and such favorites as the Rob Reiner mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, A Place in the Sun, All About Eve, and his number one movie, The Razor’s Edge.

Finally, the staffers assured the fest-goers that TCM will continue to foster the connection that it has with its viewers and offer the same high-quality classic film experience that has become the hallmark of the network.

“Robert left this place in a strong position and more ready to face the future than the network has ever been,” Mankiewicz said. “There’s no replacing Robert, but there also is no stopping TCM.”

Stay tuned for the next installment of Revisiting Adventures in Paradise!

Pre-Code Crazy: Two Seconds (1932)

•December 7, 2017 • 10 Comments

Before I decided to choose Two Seconds (1932) for this month’s Pre-Code Crazy pick, I’d only seen the first five minutes of it – I’d never made it any further.

Boy, was I a dope.

This is a really good one, y’all. Trust me.

What’s it about?

To be honest, it was really hard for me to do the write-up for this one – I didn’t want to give away a single plot point or unexpected twist. But here goes. The film centers on John Allen (Edward G. Robinson) who, at the film’s start, is on his way to death in the electric chair. We learn from the prison doctor that after the current is turned on, his body will be paralyzed, but his brain will continue to function for approximately two seconds – “long enough for him to relive his whole life.”

Not exactly a gleesome threesome, if you know what I mean.

The rest of the film is a flashback that shows how John came to such an end. We learn that John and his best friend, Bud (Preston Foster), work as riveters on a skyscraper. One night, after Bud’s steady girl shows up with a gal pal for John who looks like “a truck horse,” John exits stage left and winds up in a local dance hall. There, he meets Shirley (Vivienne Osborne), a seen-it-all, take-no-crap taxi dancer who takes a liking to John.

And that’s where I’m going to stop my description. I really want you to discover every bit of this gem the way I did – with no clue about what was going to happen. (Unless, of course, you’ve already seen it, and in that case . . . well, never mind.)

What’s good about it?

First off, it’s got a real noirish feel to it – knowing from the start that John Allen is fated to die puts an undeniable air of doom over the proceedings. You can’t help wondering what could possibly happen to make such a stand-up guy commit a crime that would lead to his conviction and execution.

John and Shirley. A match made in …?

As an Everyman who thinks he’s got it all together but gets more than he bargained for at the hands of a woman, Edward G. Robinson indulges in a bit of scenery chewing – but he’s never boring, that’s for sure.  I’ve seen Robinson in countless films, but this film gave him a role that he could really sink his teeth into. And he wraps up his performance with a nearly four-minute monologue that you simply have to see to believe.

Vivienne Osborne was a revelation. She was in a few of my favorite pre-Codes (and she played the mother in one of my most beloved MST3K movies, I Accuse My Parents), but she was really something here. Shrewd, sexy, and self-absorbed, and as hard-boiled as they come, she spit her lines out like she didn’t like the taste. She was absolutely riveting.

One of the best things about the film was the pre-Code lingo and fantastic lines. Here are just a few of my favorites:

“Say, big boy – you sure are a swell little hoofer.” (It’s not an unusual line or anything – I just love the use of the words “Big Boy,” “swell” and “hoofer.”)

“What have you got to live for, that you’re so afraid of dying?”

One of the most chilling shots in the film. (Thanks to Danny at Pre-Code.Com for his skills!)

“I know her kind – she’s a softy. She got tired of grubbin’ for her own keep and you looked like three squares and a flop to her, so she hooked ya.”

“Since when did you examine a dollar to see who its father was?”

“Don’t make me laugh – it’ll crack my lips.”

“When it comes to playin’ around with a dame or poundin’ on a stick of dynamite, the real smart guy chooses the dynamite.”

“I know your kind. And so do lots of other guys, I’ll bet.”

“The worse thing you ever did was gettin’ born!”

“Any time I take a dame out, she knows what it is to be out. I satisfy.”

This is Peggy Joyce.

Anything else?

Early on, Bud and John are talking. Bud’s girl, Annie, is going to fix John up with a blind date, but John is reluctant – Annie doesn’t exactly have a promising track record in this area. Bud assures him that this latest date has class, but he admits, “I ain’t promisin’ you no Peggy Joyce.” Joyce was an actress and model who became known more for her personal exploits than her professional achievements – she was married six times (and, according to her, engaged more than 50), had affairs with such notables as Charlie Chaplin and Walter Chrysler, and was an extravagant spender who once proclaimed that “true love was a heavy diamond bracelet, preferably one that arrived with its price tag intact.” It’s reported that on her wedding night to husband number three, she locked herself in the hotel bathroom and refused to come out until he’d written her a check for $500,000! (There’s a book out on her, released in 2000 – called Gold Digger: The Outrageous Life and Times of Peggy Hopkins Joyce by Constance Rosenblum. It’s totally going on my Christmas list.)

Check out Two Seconds on TCM December 12th. You. Will. Not. Be. Sorry.

And don’t forget to visit Speakeasy to find out gem Kristina is recommending this month!