Thursday, July 30, 2009

La Marr and Cregar celebrations

I wonder if London still looks like this?
Oh, those dandy 19th century people.
Or should I quote Tracy Lords in The Philadelphia Story (1940):

"English history has always fascinated me. Robin Hood, Cromwell, Jack the Ripper..."

Before I head off on a romantic holiday in the foggy London streets, I serve you a meaty post to enjoy yourselves with while I'm away.

I know that I originally said that we were going to Paris, but when it was time to order tickets we realized that a flight to Paris would cost us half a years of my boyfriend's salary and both our souls. Since I haven't had any soul for quite a few years, we simply couldn't make it. At least I got a drink tip from my mother (she spent some years in London in the crazy 1980's, listening to Bob Marley and flirting with bikers) - Snake Bite with sweet apple cider. But only half a pint - a mother can't let her daughter be intoxicated.

So here it is! (I'll be back on Sunday.)

July 28th was the birthday of two underestimated (or at least more or less forgotten) actors, with not too much in common - Barbara La Marr and Laird Cregar. The only connection between them is probably their too early deaths at ages 29 and 30 years of age.

I intend to compose some brief portraits of the actors, since it was ages since I did one of those. (Well, at least almost two months since the Lotte Reiniger portrait in early June.)

Barbara La Marr (1896-1926)

"I like my men like I like my roses - by the dozen."

Barbara La Marr was born Reatha (a name she loathed) Dale Watson in the town of Yakima, Washington in July 28th, 1896. Her mother was previously married and had two children in that marriage, and the father was an editor for a newspaper.

La Marr's up and coming late-night party life was seen at the horizon when she at 14 years of age was arrested for burlesque dancing. At 16 she had earned herself a full-blown scandalous reputation, some of it because of her modeling nude for several local artists. During one of many scandals she adopted the name of Barbara La Marr to avoid inconvenience. Finally she got rid of the hated name of Reatha.

Being famous for her beautiful physique (a judge supposedly once said to her that she was "too beautiful to be alone in a big city"), La Marr made her way to Hollywood to become a script writer. Through her job connections there, she soon took the leap to the other side of the film camera, debuting in 1920. In 1921 she appeared in a film called The Nut, starring Douglas Fairbanks and Marguerite De La Motte.

La Marr's most important film is probably The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), an adventure film with La Marr as the villain's mistress Antoinette de Mauban. The leading man is Lewis Stone playing double parts as Rudolf Rassendyll and King Rudolf. Also starring in the film is Alice Terry and Ramon Novarro.

Barbara La Marr in the arms of Ramon Novarro in Thy Name is Woman (1924).

La Marr lived a wild life in Hollywood's flapper age. She said that she never slept more than two hours a night, since life was too short to sleep away. One can wonder if she knew how short her life in actuality would be.

After an affair with John Gilbert (her co-star in the 1922 film Arabian Love, but mostly known for his on- and off relationship with Swedish movie queen Greta Garbo), her contract with Metro was determinated. She moved to New York, where her party life of drugs and alcohole (and some pneumonia) took her life, only 29 years old. La Marr's death is said to be one of Hollywood's first drug-related deaths.

La Marr was married no less than five times during her short life - none of the marriages lasting more than three years (the shortest being her 1914 marriage, being annulled after only a few days.)

After La Marr's death, it was revealed that she once had had an illegitimate son with a man (who's identity is still unknown). That child was adopted by La Marr's good friend Zasu Pitts and her husband.

Trivia: Actress Hedy LaMarr was named after Barbara La Marr, a choice made by MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer.

Laird Cregar (1914-1944)

"All my life I've had black little moods."
As George Harvey Bone
in Hangover Square (1945)

Samuel Laird Cregar was born 28th July, 1914 (although some sources say 1913, 1915 or 1916 - his tombstone says 1914) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest of six sons, his father being a cricketer and a member of the team Gentlemen of Philadelphia.

At the age of eight, Cregar was sent to England to join the Winchester Academy. He eventually found work as a page boy and bit player with the Stratford-upon-Avon theatrical troupe. He then set his mind on becoming a serious actor.

Cregar returned to America, and forced Hollywood to recognize him by arranging his own one-man show playing Oscar Wilde. He soon found work in Hollywood, and made his on-screen break in the history/adventure film Hudson's Bay (1941) opposite Paul Muni and Gene Tierney, playing a part with the flattering name of Gooseberry.

Throughout his film career Cregar had quite a girth, and often used to play suave villains much older than he himself was. Notable parts are the supposedly homosexual columnist Natalio Curro in the matador film Blood and Sand (1941), a psychopathic detectivei n I Wake Up Screaming (1941), a con-artist together with Gene Tierney once again in the screwball comedy Rings on Her Fingers (1942) and Jack the Ripper in The Lodger (1944).

Quite a broad resume - the public loved his sincere over-the-top acting and colorful villains - but there was one problem. When Cregar lost the part of Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944), because the director thought that the public instantaniously would know that the character would på the villain if Cregar got the part, it was a wake-up call for him. Afraid of being type-cast, Cregar decided to do something to change his career.

Being a promising actor as he was, but not given the opportunity to develop, Cregar got the devastating idea of loosing some weight to be able to play leading men. He obviously had attractive facial features (co-actress Merle Oberon encouraged him, and told him that he could be a romantic on-screen hero), but his weight stood in his way for more varying roles. Cregar changed his diet, and went from weighing 300 pounds (132 kg) to 200 pounds (88 kg). The result is to be seen in the dark, magical thriller Hangover Square (1945, review here) opposite Linda Darnell (my post on her here). In the film he plays a despicable composer, who black-outswhen he hears dissonance. Soon he suspects that he might have commited murder during his blackouts.

In his last role Cregar proved that he was an actor to count with. Tragically enough, that was the last example of his brilliant acting the motion picture audience got to see - Cregar's body couldn't handle his crash diet, and he was forced to undergo surgery for severe stomach disorder. His heart gave up on December 9th, 1944, days after the surgery. He didn't live to see himself finally getting the top billing, in Hangover Square.

Trivia: Laird Cregar was homosexual, something that wasn't too accepted in the 1940's. The man he lost the role of Waldo Lydecker to, Clifton Webb, was also homosexual.

Here's a compilation of some of Laird Cregar's on-screen characters. I made it in quite a haste, so I'm sorry if it's not a 100 %. (And I really should have included I Wake Up Screaming.)
Anyway - I felt that YouTube needed a little more Cregar, so maybe it makes someone happy.

Ta-taa for now, kittens!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

USA 1944
113 min

Now I've finally seen this wonderful musical! I've been meaning to watch it for a long time, but we all know how that often turns out - putting it on the "to-see-list", and hopefully having watched it by the turn of the next millenium.
I was just lucky to turn on TCM yesterday, and I unintentionally timed it perfectly while zapping among all the God forsaken choices of channels my generation is cursed with. I suddenly heard the voice of the Lord himself saying "Next up on TCM - Meet Me in St. Louis", jumped high of joy and threw myself on the couch with a chocolate bar. And was it a delight, oh boy.

I must keep my eyes open for more Vincente Minnelli musicals (I've only seen An American in Paris before), cause Meet Me in St. Louis had the unusually right amount of everything - well-written lyrics, catchy tunes, melodrama, humor and even some horror (seen through the eyes of the children). All in magical Technicolor!

Rose (Lucille Bremer) and Esther sing the title song, to their father's despair.

The plot plays out in the city of (what else) St. Louis in 1903, the year before the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. During the whole film the town is getting ready for the event of the century.
In the centre of the plot is the Smith family, mostly dominated by women. Here we find the grouchy but well-meaning father Alonzo (Leon Ames), who bravely tries to keep his authority in the female household. There's also his wife Anna (Mary Astor), grandfather Smith, son Lon Jr and four daughters. Among the daughters we find the second eldest, Esther, played by Judy Garland. It is probably Esther and the youngest daughter, "Tootie" (Margaret O'Brien), who are the most important characters in the film. (The film is based on a novel written by Sally Benson, the real "Tootie".)

Tootie and Esther entertaining the guests at a family farewell party.

As I said before the film's greatest strength lies in the combination of candy sweet entertainment and, minutes later, truly heart tearing moments. A good example is the scene where Esther sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to Tootie, only days before the family has to leave St. Louis to move to New York City. Taken out of context, the scene looks really calm and beautiful, but it's perhaps the most bittersweet moment in the entire film. Let me put it like this - I cried. (Luckily, I had my chocolate bar in reach.)

Meet Me in St. Louis was a huge box-office hit, and grossed more money that any MGM film had done in 20 years (except for Gone With the Wind, of course).
It was also during the filming of Meet Me in St. Louis that Judy Garland met her second husband (of five), director Vincente Minnelli. The married soon after the filming was done, were married for six years and had a daughter in 1946 - Liza Minnelli.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New wallpapers

I've been working on some new wallpapers, hope you will like them!
In a not too distant future you will easily be able to get them, and in three screen resolutions: 1680x1050, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. But for now, you'll have to do with just the widescreen ones. (Click on the picture to get the wallpaper at ImageShack.)

Update: I noticed that there was a thin, black line in the Audrey Hepburn wallpaper - it's corrected now!

Monday, July 20, 2009

3 x Shearer and Montgomery

It was Friday 17th of July, 2009.

Lolita was very eager to get a hold of some friend to take a cup of coffee with her. Seven bitter phone calls later, she had to give up and realize that she obviously didn't have enough friends - they either had other plans or were ill. How incredibly selfish of them. (Lolita really should get a job.)

She did however always find a solution for a problem like that. Rather than getting out in the real life and doing something important, she could always hang out with her friends from the silver screen.
So she sat down and watched three films in a row. And they had something important in common - they were all pre-code Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery vehicles. Great ones, too.

And to leave that silly third person story telling, I must say - Shearer and Montgomery might be among the most lovable on-screen couples in motion picture history. They sparkle.

So, here's a little summary of of the films I watched that awful day when I didn't have any friends to play with me.

Director: E. Mason Hopper
USA 1929
65 min

Lally (Shearer) is a wealthy girl, living a happy life playing polo and joking around with her father Henry (Lewis Stone). But the idyllic life is soon smashed to pieces when Lally's father after 23 years of marriage divorces her mother Harriet (Belle Bennett) to start a-new with a younger woman, Beth Cheever (Helene Millard), who also leaves her current husband.

Harriet is devastated, and Mandy turns against her father and his new woman. Bitter on all men on Earth, she and her mother go on a vacation. There she, of course, meets a charming young man; Jack (Montgomery), and falls in love. Things get more complicated when Lally realizes that the man she is wooing is none other than the son of Mrs. Cheever.

Their Own Desire is surprisingly fluent in its story-telling, considering that it is a pretty early talkie, and that those often tend to be a bit clumsy. The first scene with Shearer and Montgomery is fantastic - he sees her at a swimming pool, about to dive in. When she does, he goes after her (clothes on and all), and surprises her with a kiss in an under-water shot. Really beautiful. And, as would for any real woman, it works.

USA 1931
81 min

Our leading lady Norma Shearer plays Lisbeth Corbin - a modern woman who doesn't feel the necessity to get married to her lover, Alan (Neil Hamilton). Or is it just he who doesn't want to get married? At least that's what Lisbeth's friend and family thinks (among them Irene Rich and Marjorie Rambeau) and warn her about.

Despite having the wonderfully charming Steve (Montgomery) volunteering to marry her, Lisbeth decides to follow her love interest to Mexico. While there, Alan confesses that he actually has a wife in Paris, making Lisbeth realize that she probably doesn't mean more to him than being another mistress. Heartbroken she decides to go to Europe and exploring the loose single life that all men obviously know about - being single or not.

Steve catches up with a Lisbeth surrounded by Spanish admirers. He quickly learns that Lisbeth hasn't wasted any time at her travels.

Steve: Ooh, what I heard about you in Paris, ooh...
Lisbeth: And of course, like a true knight, you refused to believe it.
Steve: Well, the first six or seven hundred times I did.

Lisbeth clearly enjoys the fruits of life ("I'm in an orgy, wallowing. And I love it!"), but as soon as she receives a telegram from her dear Alan - telling her that he's getting a divorce and wants to marry her - she lets go of everything and travels to Paris to meet him. Unfortunately, her reputation gets to Alan first, and he isn't that interested in having her for a wife anymore. For the second time in a row, she fails in getting the man she wants.

"Now, let dear Steve comfort you!", the naïve public hopefully thinks. Oh no - he's a gentleman. He leans back as problems get solved between his love interest and Alan-the-pig. There's always a champagne bottle to keep him company.

There were more sexual tension between Shearer and Montgomery in The Divorcee (review here), in their of-three-silent-clips-consisting-scene they shared in that one, than in this entire film. It feels like they should have switched Hamilton's and Montgomery's parts.

But it's a great film, and Shearer is that typical pre-code woman she always should have been able to play all through her career.

Director: Sidney Franklin
USA 1931
84 min

My favourite of this bunch. It starts off with cutting between two weddings - Elyot (Montgomery) being married to Sibyl (Una Merkel), and Victor (Reginald Denny) to Mandy (Shearer). We see the couples happily going away on their honeymoons, and soon we understand that Elyot and Mandy have been married to each other, due to their new inquisitive partners.

And it isn't finished there - the two newlywed couples happen to spend their honeymoons at the same hotel - door to door! It is of course only a matter of time before Mandy and Elyot bump into each other.

This is an insane comedy/drama, based on a play by Noël Coward. The snappy, insinuating dialogue and the blabbering of the characters who constantly interrupt each other remind me of the screwball comedies of the 1940's. I can however never decide whether Una Merkel's character is cute and neurotic or just insanely annoying. But the fighting scene with Shearer and Montgomery is hilarious - and I read at IMDb that Montgomery (unintentionally) was knocked unconcious while filming that scene! No wonder - it looks really hectic and temperamental to me.

In short - Private Lives is a wonderful and entertaining movie with Shearer and Montgomery at their absolute best. If you haven't seen it yet - DO IT.

Shearer and Montgomery in Their Own Desire.

Shearer and Montgomery in Strangers May Kiss.

Shearer and Montgomery in Private Lives.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ready for a surprise?

Or at least, a little appetizer for what's yet to come.

Yesterday I finished my first video review in the form of a top 10 list. And what's the subject? Hollywood kisses, of course! Please let me know if it's satisfactory.

And happy birthday, Barbara Stanwyck and Ginger Rogers!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Symphony of Six Million

Director: Gregory La Cava
USA 1932
94 min

A City --
Six million human hearts -
Each with a dream --
a hope -- a goal ---
Each soul a vagrant
melody in the eternal
Symphony of Life!

Well, you wouldn't be surprised by a laugh from a modern audience at that intro - but it actually sums up the spirit of this film pretty good.

A lovely pre-code melodrama, about a poor and loud Jewish family living in the ghetto. It doesn't take too many minutes into the film until you realize that one of the three children, Felix Klauber, has high ambitions - he wants to be a doctor. His best friend is Jessica, another poor ghetto child with a spine problem, Jessica.

Felix and Jessica being bullied by some tough guys.

Felix reads a book while playing chess with his temperamental father.

We jump ahead a few years. Felix (Ricardo Cortez) is now a beloved doctor in the ghetto, and Jessica (Irene Dunne) is a school teacher for blind children - all the while limping around because of her spine defect. Felix seems to enjoy his life and get energy for helping those in need, but his brat brother Magnus has some other plans for his talented brother. Magnus manipulates their mother to convince Felix that she doesn't enjoy her life, and that she wishes for him to get a doctor's practice in the fancier part of the town so the family can move. Said and done (who wouldn't do anything for their mother?).

Still best friends, Felix visits Jessica and the blind children every once in a while.

"Oh, Felix, I don't like it here..." That spineless woman!

We take another leap in time. Felix now has a fancy office uptown, and financially supports his whole family. He is too busy with appointments with frustrated high society women who wants to be examined by their handsome, young doctor, that he nearly looses all contact with his family - and Jessica. When he misses an operation on one of Jessica's blind boy students, and he sadly looses his life, Jessica gives him an eye-opener to get nightmares about. What has happened to Felix? What happened to his strong will and moral? Is he happy with his life, even if it includes a lot of money and social status?

A sick boy, waiting for his favorite doctor - Felix Klauber.

Who wouldn't go to the doctor more often if he looked like Ricardo Cortez?

When he finally realizes that he wants to spend more time with his family, he gets to them just in time for his father to get a brain tumour. And who does his family think is the most suitable person to operate him, if not Felix.

It is no surprise that the director behind this enthrilling film is Gregory La Cava, directing My Man Godfrey (1936) four years later. The whole film is very beautiful and engaging - I especially admire the operating scene where Felix is forced to perform brain surgery on his own father. The music grows more and more intense, until it abruptly stops dead when Felix grabs the first operating instrument. It almost feels mean - in an important and intense scene like that, a little musical distraction would help to tell the film apart from real life - but oh, no. This is serious stuff, and you're supposed to feel it.
Behind the camera is cinematographer Leo Tover, also responsible for the photography work of two other films I've reviewed - Thirteen Women (1932) and I'm No Angel (1933).

As Felix grabs the scalpel, the merciless silence falls upon us.

Felix Klauber - not so popular in the ghetto anymore.

A great example of the beautiful photo by Leo Tover.

One more thing. Before seeing this film, I had only encountered Cortez in sleezy bad guy parts (something he is exceptionally good at), so I had some worries that he wouldn't be able to put off a serious dramatic role. But was I wrong? Oh, yes.
More Cortez for the people!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grand Hotel (1932) + Extras

Director: Edmund Goulding
USA 1932
112 min

I just re-watched this pre-code masterpiece as the sky opens and releases an Atlantic Ocean outside. A not too inconvenient experience - especially when I'm accompanied by the newly purchased Mick Lasalle book "Complicated Women - Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood" on my cigarette breaks.

So anyway. Besides having five of MGM's greatest stars in the leads, having an ingenious script by William A. Drake (original novel by Vicki Baum), Grand Hotel also offers a feast for the eye by the enchanting cinematography of William H. Daniels (having photographed other Garbo vehicles such as Anna Christie, Mata Hari, Queen Christina, Anna Karenina and Camille).

Scene: The Baron's (John Barrymore) first encounter with Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) is a perfect example of the magnificent camera work in Grand Hotel. Look how she constantly blows smoke in the Baron's face - not too respectable!

I won't go into the plot too much, for two reasons, being; just a few words about it wouldn't do it justice, and you don't need to know more than that Grand Hotel is a witty drama taking place in (what else?) the fancy Grand Hotel.
Hollywood veteran Lewis Stone, as doctor Otternschlag, couldn't be more wrong (and yet strangely accurate...) when he as both an introduction and a final statement to the film states:

"Grand Hotel... always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens."

And I must say that I am quite impressed by the extra material on the Warner Bros DVD edition of the film. Aside from a short documentary on the film, there are amazing film documents from the Grauman's Chinese Theatre premiere of Grand Hotel - with Conrad Nagel responsible for all the movie stars checking in at the film theatre!
And there aren't quite a few of the stars, neither. Aside from Crawford (with husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr), Lionel Barrymore and Wallace Beery from the cast, "Mr. and Mrs. Irving Thalberg" appear, in the company of Clark Gable. Also Jean Harlow, who states that she can't write with gloves on, handsome Robert Montgomery and the film industry mogul Louis B. Mayer, among others.
Well, what's the use of me telling you about it? Take a look for yourself here:

Another funny special feature is the 18 minute long Grand Hotel parody Nothing Ever Happens (1933), which is as hilarious as it seems hallucinogen inspired. Witty spoken songs mashed with Busby Berkeley girls, who simultaneously throw their legs in the air whether they are at the hotel desk or the busy kitchen.
The actors are no famous, and most of them only made about three or four pictures in total, but that only adds to the refinement of the famous actor/actress mockery. Greta Garbo's ballerina Grusinskaya is simply called "Madam", and the baron is simply "The Baron", while the other characters are wittingly re-named as Scramchen (Flaemmchen), Prizering (Beery's Preysing), and my favourite; Waistline (Lionel's Kringelein).

In short, it's a comical little gem! And have I been so nice as to let you watch it? Of course! It's totally bizarre:


Grusinskaya: I want to be alone. I think I have never been so tired in my life.

Otto Kringelein: Wait! You can't discharge me. I am my own master for the first time in my life. You can't discharge me. I'm sick. I'm going to die, you understand? I'm going to die, and nobady can do anything to me anymore. Nothing can happen to me anymore. Before I can be discharged, I'll be dead!

Dr. Otternschlag: Believe me, Mr. Kringelein, a man who is not with a woman is a dead man.

Preysing: I don't know much about women. I've been married for 28 years, you know.

Grusinskaya: I don't even know your name.
Baron Felix von Geigern: [laughs] I am Felix Benvenuto Freihern von Geigern. My mother called me "Flix".
Grusinskaya: [joyously] No! Flix! Oh, that's sweet. And how do you live? And what kind of a person are you?
Baron Felix von Geigern: I'm a prodigal son, the black sheep of a white flock. I shall die on the gallows.

Time to let you enjoy some colorized work of mine - I've been a little cheap on them lately!

One Lovely Blog Award

The lovely Elizabeth, with the probably cosiest blog ever (I love it), Oh By Jingo! Oh By Gee!, honored me with the One Lovely Blog Award. Thank you so much!

I choose to see this blog award as something other than just "a great blog" award - those I will give the award to receive it because they have truly lovely blogs that make me feel "at home". (How cheesy I am.)

Anyway - a One Lovely Blog Award to the five following blogs, that just make me happy:

Kate Gabrielle at flapperdoodle

Millie at ClassicForever

MissMatilda at Matilda's Delights

The rules: Accept the award and post it on your blog with the name of the person that gave it to you. Pass on the award to as many bloggers as you wish and let them know you chose them for the award.

Keep up the good work folk, you make my day! And thank you again, Elizabeth!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Art Giveaway at Kate Gabrielle's!

Oh yeah, the girl is on again! This time she lets you choose from three different artwork baskets (read more about the insanely easy rules to join the competition here)! Oh, I sure love those mini pocket mirrors...

Greedy for Kate Gabrielle artwork as I am, I of course join this competition too. (The flapper doodle paintings look marvellous on my wall, as you can see in this post.) But of course, the unselfish part of me wishes that someone else who admire the art as much as I will win this time, to get her paintings spreading.

So - follow this link to her blog post, read and attend!

"Astaireing Contest" by Kate Gabrielle. Just brilliant, haha.