Friday, June 26, 2009

Female (1933)

"I know for some women, men are a household necessity; myself, I'd rather have a canary."

- Alison Drake in Female (1933)

Director: Michael Curtiz
USA 1933
60 min

Oh, dear God - help me with this one. What the F-? If you haven't yet seen this film, see it and come back to me - I'm in pieces. If you have seen it, please help me to get this right.

First of all - who should I blame for the ending that ruined this totally wonderful film? Curtiz? Warner Brothers? The producer? Will Hays and company?

I'll sum up the plot before I go into the what-the-F-part more. Alison Drake, played by a brilliant Ruth Chatterton who is perfect for the role, is the president of an automobile company. She is cold, respectable and professional. She is not the marrying kind of a women, which early on is understood by a dialogue Miss Drake has with her childhood friend Harriet Brown (Lois Wilson). She is fully pleased with taking her fellow co-workers home for "discussing business matters over dinner", i.e. - by seeing Miss Drake indicatively throwing a pillow on the floor with a big smile, we understand perfectly well how she likes to pass her evenings.

Miss Drake is also sick of all the men who obviously only flatter her because they want her money, and one evening she decides to go out on town anonymously to see if she can attract a man without them knowing about her power and wealth. She lays her eyes on a handsome man named Jim Thorne (George Brent), and tries her seducing routine on him. Being a "dominant male", he isn't pretty impressed by being manipulated by a woman - he wants to put down his own prey. None the less, Miss Drake has got her eyes on Thorne, and does not give up too easily. When he starts at her company, she tries her best to get her hands on him.

So far the film is absolutely stunning. Provocative - yes. Superb script - yes. Fine actors - yes. Enchanting Ruth Chatterton - yes.

But now to the what-the-F-part.
The ending.
Seriously, what the F-?

All through the film we have been proven over and over that Miss Drake is an independant woman in no need of a man to rule her life. It is of course only natural that she eventually finds her soul mate, and maybe go through a crisis and doubt that she has made the right choice in life - I understand it that far.

Then Thorne takes for granted that Drake wants to marry him, and he gets furious when she hezitates and tears the marriage certificate into pieces. She has a breakdown at an office meeting seconds later, and yells out that she doesn't care about the company and that she is a pathetic woman. I understand the reaction that far, too. But she gets on her feet again when her loyal co-worker/butler/secretary Pettigrew (Ferdinand Gottschalk, the great comic relief in the picture) provoke her by sarcastically remarking that "of course she can't run an entire automobile company - she's just a woman!". Great.

Then she changes her mind again. She realizes that she wants Thorne, and go out on a car chase to find him. Okay, so it's real love then. Fine with me. At least, she has decided that she still wants to be a business woman. She finds him, tells him that she still wants to marry him if he hasn't changed his mind. He smiles, asks her about what time a certain business meeting, that she cancelled for chasing after him, is being held. He convinces her that they will get in time for it. Great! All he wanted was to know that her feelings were true - of course he can accept her as a devoted business woman. It's pre-code after all, right?

Look at this trailer and tell me how they could fuck up this concept. George Brent's character is a real arsehole:

Oh no. Now's the real f*cked-up moment - she tells him that she puts all the business in his hands, and that she now wants to be a loyal wife and mother.

What the F-! Is this a joke? If I understand this the right way, the moral of the film is that any woman that pretends that she can do anything else but being a man's loyal companion, is wrong and should realize that this is a man's world. Jesus f-cking Christ, I can't believe that film was made before the Hays Code was finalized! And I am the woman who always make fun of feminists and all the kerfuffle they always make, but this film was so absurd that it even pulled the trigger on me.

"What the F-", is all I have to say about this one. Sorry for my lack of words, but I can't put my feelings into more detail than that. "What the F-".

At least Ruth Chatterton was fantastic.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Douglas Fairbanks book

I just re-watched 1930's Norma Shearer lump of gold The Divorcee (see previous post), but now with commentaries by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta - and that may be one of the best commentary tracks I've ever listened to. They were so talanted, youthful, hilarious and had a great chemistry. I say - take a look at it! I am of course talking about the DVD box set Forbidden Hollywood Collection volume two.

Since I'm a part of this young Internet generation, I simply had to google these guys. First I came over their IMDb profiles (written by each other, how cute), and then found my way to their blog Two Modern Guys in Classic Hollywood. Candy!

And that's were I get to the Douglas Fairbanks part of this ordeal - they obviously not too long time ago write a biography about Douglas Fairbanks (names quite simply "Douglas Fairbanks"), and before that Jeffrey Vance has written the biographies "Chaplin: Genius of Cinema", "Buster Keaton Remembered" and "Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian". (Take a look at their short presentation text at the bottom of their blog, fascinating. How do you become a film historian when you're just a little lass from Sweden?)

My point is: How can that book (and the others, for that matter) be anything but totally awesome? I just ordered Mick Lasalle's honoured book "Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood" - but I guess my next order will be something Vance/Maietta related.

Here's a trailer I snatched from their blog:

Don't Tom Cruise look awefully plastic? And why the Backstreet Boys haircut? The pretty faces of United Artists are probably gone forever...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Divorcee (1930)

USA 1930
82 min

From The Forbidden Hollywood Collection - volume two.

The film begins with a New York "in-gang" spending a pleasant time in a cabin in the woods. Ted and Jerry (Chester Morris and Norma Shearer) are young and in love, and soon they pronounce they are engaged. Most of their friends are thrilled by the surprise (including an unbelievably charming Robert Montgomery as Don and Florence Eldridge, one of the Thirteen Women, as Helen), except for Paul (Conrad Nagel) who in secret always have been in love with Jerry. (God, that was a long sentence. Really kafkaesque!)
When it gets time to leave the cabin, Paul has gotten so drunk that he in a shockingly horrifying scene wrecks his car, the accident causing one of the women, Dorothy (Judith Wood), to become totally disfigured. Out of pity, Paul marries her by the same time of Ted and Jerry's marriage.

Chester Morris and Norma Shearer in the leading roles.

We jump in time. Ted and Jerry Martin proves to be happily married, but on the night of their third anniversary Jerry finds out that Ted has been unfaithful to her. Ted is going away on business and has no time to explain the situation more than "it didn't mean anything at all". Feeling betrayed and disillusioned, Jerry goes out for a night on the town with her friends and eventually end up in the beautiful Don's bed.
When Ted gets home from his business trip, Jerry explains to him that she has "balanced their accounts", and Ted gets furious. After having shown up drunk and crashed the wedding party of one of their friends, Ted leaves Jerry and they seek for a divorce.

We once again take a leap in time, to the time where the divorce has been finalized. Jerry is devastated, but tries her best to feel the greatness of being single again. But no matter how many men she meet and charms, she only realizes more and more that the divorce was a mistake.

Norma Shearer with Conrad Nagel.

The Divorcee is without a doubt one of the best pre-codes I've seen (competing violently with Red-Headed Woman and Baby Face), and the Norma Shearer film I've seen that her acting is at her best.
When casting the film, the MGM producers doubted that Shearer would suit the part - until this time she had mostly played "proper" characters. Interestingly enough, producer and Shearer's husband Irving Thalberg was the one who doubted her most. To prove them wrong, Norma did a photo shoot where she posed provocatively in lingerie - and after having seen those photos, all doubts about Shearer being able to play sensual women were gone with the wind.
Shearer received the Academy Award for Best Actress for this role, as well-deserved.

Norma with the irresistible Robert Montgomery.

At the time of The Divorcee's release, the subject of divorce was a sensitive issue. When the Hays Code was finalized in 1934, this film would be unthinkable. I therefore found the introduction dialogue of the film very interesting, having four people playing cards and casually joking about their ex-husbands and ex-wives.

And now I must admit that I fell in love with Robert Montgomery today. He is just swell in this film. And even though I was quite charmed by Chester Morris in Red-Headed Woman, his character in The Divorcee is too proud not to be annoyed with. Conrad Nagel is nothing I would turn down, neither, but his character is quite flat. Montgomery's self-confident Don Juan is more my type. In conclusion: with Montgomery in the lead, The Divorcee has a lot of eye-candy for a woman!

Ever seen Robert Montgomery, Chester Morris and Conrad Nagel play The Cocoanuts?


Jerry Bernard Martin: [slipping on a diamond ring] Oh, I couldn't think of accepting such a valuable gift!
Offscreen man: But, my dear, my feeling for you is purely platonic.
Jerry Bernard Martin: Really? I've heard of platonic love, but I didn't know there was such a thing as platonic jewellery.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Director: James Whale
USA 1931
81 min

The last film in The Forbidden Hollywood collection - volume 1.
Unfortunately, this first Waterloo Bridge has for a long time stood in the shadows of Mervyn LeRoy's more clean-cut 1940's version with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. The Hay's Code was a sneaky invention, successfully covering up the naughty pre-code films they couldn't morally stand for, and hiding them in the darkest corners available - which probably was one of the causes that the superb leading lady Mae Clarke didn't receive the immortal stardom she really deserved.

This war melodrama takes place in London during World War I. We see Myra Deauville (Mae Clarke) working as a chorus girl on stage. The backstage scene is very interesting in the matter of the pre-code aura - even though the dancers do wear clothes (or at least, underwear), they are quite transparent and provocative. (See for yourself, two pictures down!)

Myra's stage career is however not too successful, and soon she is forced out on the streets and make "play for pay" her business to get money for the rent.
But then a 19 year old soldier Roy Cronin (Douglass Montgomery, as Kent Douglass) turn up during an air raid. He follows Myra home, and they instantly fall for each other. This soldier is however very genuine and naïve, and fails to understand Myra's profession - and Myra don't want to ruin their relationship by telling him. Her guilt makes her several times trying to convince Roy not to see her anymore, but she fails to change his mind. He eventually tricks her into meeting his loving family (with Bette Davis in an early role as his sister), who immediately understands that Myra is not a chorus girl as she says. When Roy proposes Myra is haunted with guilt and ambivalence. She wants nothing more than live a clean, normal life with the man she loves, but she is horrified about ruining Roy's feeling about her if he finds out about her dirty secret.

- How old are you, Roy? - Nineteen, why?

An intense scene with Myra and Roy.

Kitty and Myra keeping an eye open for customers.

Mayor Fred Wetherby and Janet Cronin.

This is overall a perfect melodrama. The two main actors Clarke and Douglass have a wonderful chemistry, and their down to earth way of identifying with their characters really put their claws into you - and being a women, I of course got tears in my eyes with Myra torn apart by her guilt and Roy's require less love for the fallen woman.
Some comic relief is delivered with perfection with the supporting characters, for example Myra's probably-too-old-for-her-job fellow worker Kitty (Doris Lloyd), and Roy's nearly deaf and senile stepfather Mayor Fred Wetherby (Frederick Kerr).

Scene: A heartbreaking scene where Myra seems to get an anxiety attack due to burden of her guilt.

It is beyond me how Clarke and Douglass (especially Clarke) wasn't more appreciated. 1931 was of course a quite productive year for Mae Clarke; outside of Waterloo Bridge, she played Dr. Frankenstein's fiancée in another James Whale produced classic, Frankenstein, and also got a grapefruit pushed in her face by James Cagney in The Public Enemy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Red-Headed Woman (1932)

Director: Jack Conway
USA 1932
79 min

Chester Morris and Jean Harlow in one of many sedustion scenes i Red-Headed Woman.

Times to review the second film in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection volume 1 - Red-Headed Woman.

The screenplay (originally written by the most influential writer in the 1920's America, F. Scott Fitzgerald, but re-written entirely by the admirable Anita Loos) is reminiscent of the screenplay to Baby Face (1933) (or is it the other way around?): Our protagonist is a woman determined to climb the social ladder by seducing rich and powerful men. There is bootleg whiskey, bare legs and a sceptical yet faithful side-kick who follows the leading lady whatever she does.

The likenesses of the films are however nothing remotely negative - it's a great concept for pre-code classics.
The leading lady Lillian (or "Lil" or "Red") is played by the irreplacable Jean Harlow, looking astonishing in a pre-code moviestar's typical wardrobe. Even though she became famous as "the platinum blonde", she wore a red wig for this film - with successful results. Her charming broad accent is the only thing that reveals that she is "from the wrong side of rail road".

Scene: The lovely introduction scene of the film, with Jean Harlow and Una Merkel.

Scene: The slap scene with Chester Morris and Jean Harlow. Naughty woman!

The first victim for Lil's irresistible legs is her boss Bill Legendre (Chester Morris, handsome as ever), happily married to a beautiful woman, Irene (Leila Hyams, known for playing "Venus" in the disturbing Tod Browning masterpiece Freaks from the same year). Lil is however successful in seducing her boss ("Well, he's a man, isn't he?"), and soon she gets hungry for more "up-grade". Bill Legendre's father (Lewis Stone) gets suspicious after finding one of Lil's handkerchieves in one of his important business partner's hotel room, and eventually Lil is revealed to both wanting the cake and eat it too...

Screenwright Anita Loos, director Jack Conway (I think...) and Jean Harlow.

If you haven't, for some reason, yet seen this film - the action is not over at that point. This is an amazing film, quite shocking even for a modern audience. (At least I think so, maybe I just have gotten used to old films.) This is clearly Jean Harlow at her best - I understand people getting disappointed with her being reduced to toned-down roles in films like Wife vs. Secretary (1936) after the despicable Hays Code tied the hands of film making.
Anyway, screenwright Anita Loos deserves an honorable mention for having written a fantastic screen play full of witty lines and a perfect variety of obvious sexual indications and not-so-obvious ones. Jean Harlow's sidekick Una Merkel as her room mate Sally does a lot to the film, and the early appearance by Charles Boyer as the French chauffeur Albert is very amusing. And I was surprised that the quality was held until the very last minute of the film - the end is very clever. I'm also happy to see that no alternative ending was added, as it was to Baby Face. Huah...

But I must admit that I am quite curious about how Fitzgerald's script looked like... (It was tossed away for "taken the matter too seriously". The best argument for rejecting something ever.)

Jean Harlow and Anita Loos. Such a charming pic.
(Anita Loos was the writer of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, first a not-so-successful silent film in 1928 with Ruth Taylor and Alice White, in 1953 a smash hit with Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe.)

"I'm furious about the women's liberationists. They keep getting up on soapboxes and proclaiming that women are brighter than men. That's true, but it should be kept very quiet or it ruins the whole racket."
- Anita Loos


Lillian 'Lil': [trying on a dress in a store, Lil positions herself in front of a sunny window] Can you see through this?
Off-camera store clerk: I'm afraid you can, Miss.
Lillian 'Lil': I'll wear it.
Off-camera store clerk: Oh!

Lillian 'Lil': Sally I'm the happiest girl in the world. I'm in love and I'm gonna be married.
Sally: You're gonna marry Albert?
Lillian 'Lil': No, Gaerste.
Sally: In love with Gaerste?
Lillian 'Lil': No, Albert.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Smoking women - part 4

Since I am a little busy with a "secret project" of mine, I have to go with these lazy-ass posts for a while. Hope you don't mind. At least I provide pictures of some gorgeous femme fatales!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Enid Stamp Taylor, again. (See part 2.) How wonderful that cloche hat is.

Lupe Velez, looking oh, so feminine. (Is that a dead bird in her hat?)

French Corinne Calvet, multitasking by smoking, drinking and trying to breath in that treacherous corset. (I want those gloves.)

Paulette Goddard looks comfy in her bath tub. But personally, I would not be comfortable with all the camera crew that probably stands around her.

Linda Darnell, a natural beauty.

I had to put in this amazing picture too, even though I have no idea who she is. I found the picture with the only information of "Comtesse de la Falaise - 1934". Maybe she has something to do with Gloria Swanson's third husband Henri de la Falaise. Maybe not.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Smoking Women - part 3

Part three of my Smoking Women series. Now that I can manage a movie maker program, I think this post is satisfying - I love to have control! (Oh, yes: God complex and all. But it's a creative disability!)

Enjoy part three, here are the links to the previous posts:

Women included in the video:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gift Card via Lolita's Classics!

A little tip to my dear readers:

Are you in need of cool, comfortable ugg boots? Thanks to you visiting my blog, you now get $30 (or £19) to spend on the by entering the code LOLITASCLA into the box in the cart. The code will be valuable for months, then it expires. So, shop on until October 12th!
These high-quality boots comes in a range of different colors and designs. Just read the "3 Ugg Boot Secrets":

  1. Cushiony comfort
  2. Lasting durability
  3. Shapely fasion

With the weather in Sweden today (raining cats and dogs and f*ckin' freezin'), I'd sure love a pair myself! I would preferrably fold down the shaft, as in the picture far below.
Check it out on the site, have fun!