Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Director: Frank Capra
USA 1939
129 min

Holy Mackerel! This is a great film.
James Stewart plays the role of Jefferson Smith, a naive and hopeful man who, by the spineless governor of his state, is appointed to fill a vacancy in the US Senate. Unfortunately he collides with political corruption and gets dragged through the mud in the press.

Mr. Smith is the head of the Boy Rangers, and sees now his chance to start a national boy's camp and comes up with a legislation to authorize a federal government loan to buy a piece of land for that business. The loan will then be paid for by the contributions of the boy's camp's members. Donations starts to pour in immediately by mail.
The corrupt government, however, has other plans for that particular piece of land, and tries to make Smith their ally. When he still wants to go through with his plans (with the help of Clarissa Saunders, played by the adorable Jean Arthur) the government instead tries to smear the name of Mr. Smith. They ridicule him in the newspapers and come up with lies about his intentions of the boy's camp to get him out of the Congress.

Jim Taylor and Senator Joseph Paine.

Claude Rains plays Senator Joseph Paine, an old-time friend of Mr. Smith's father. He is torn between his personal feelings for Mr. Smith, and the will of his political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), who helped him to be successful in politics, and quickly could make him powerless. You can almost not recognize Rains by appearance in this role, and the only different thing is that his hair is white and he's got spectacles on his nose.

As the beautiful daughter of Joseph Paine, Susan, Astrid Allwyn steals the two scenes she appears in. The first of those, were she meets Mr. Smith and "turns the glamour" on him, making him so nervous that he drops his hat about three times, is very amusing.

Senator Joseph Paine and his daughter Susan finds Mr. Smith very amusing.

From the telephone scene with Astrid Allwyn and Jean Arthur.

Scene: Saunders finds Mr. Smith in despair by the Lincoln monument.

"It's a forty foot dive into a tub of water, but I think you can do it."

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington caused a lot of angry feelings around the country by Washington insiders, who thought they were pictured in a false and negative way. One of the real Senators even walked out from the screening he attended in disgust. But on the opposite side the film was rejected by fascists, nazists and communists in Europe for showing that democracy can work.
Director Frank Capra got anyhow letters years afterwards buy people being inspired by the film to go into politics.

The at first cynical Saunders is inspired by Mr. Smith's enthusiasm and energy, and soon finds herself falling for him.

From the filibuster scene.

The last line in this film might be one of the best ones ever, spoken by Jean Arthur:

Clarissa Saunders: [shouts] Yippee!

A couple of nice film posters.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Astrid Allwyn (1905-1978)

Astrid Allwyn was a stage and film actress and an accomplished singer. She made her Broadway debut in 1929, the year of the Wall Street crash, in Elmer Rice's Street Scene.

After Broadway Astrid turned to Hollywood and appeared in a lot of Depression era films, often playing the woman the leading character runs away from - for example Cary Crant's fiancée in Love Affair (1939) and James Stewart's in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). In the latter she plays the daughter of Claude Rain's character Senator Joseph Paine.
She also played the role of Mrs. Iris Manning in the Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers film Follow the Fleet (1936).

Astrid Allwyn was married twice. She met her first husband, actor Robert Kent, on the shooting of the Shirley Temple film Dimples (1936). They divorced in 1941. She had two daughters with her second husband Charles O. Fee, and was married to him until her death from cancer in 1978.

Here is the link to the first (of eight) part of Dimples, with Shirley Temple, Frank Morgan, Robert Kent and Astrid Allwyn.

Astrid Allwyn with Herbert Marshall and Sylvia Sidney in Accent on Youth (1935).

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Maria Montez (1912-1951)

When I look at myself, I am so beautiful I scream with joy!

Maria Montez

Maria Montez was a Dominican born American actress who became popular in the 1940's as an exotic beauty in a number of Technicolor adventure films. In her films she played the erotic Latin seductress, adorned with jewels and colorful veils, and became known as "The Queen of Technicolor" .

Maria Montez with three of her sisters.

Maria Montez was born Maria África Gracia Vidal (named after he father's native land, La Isla de la Palma, Spain in the African continent) in Dahoma, Dominican Republic, and was the second of ten children. At a young age she learn to speak English by reading magazines and books and watching American films. Already when she was a little child she wanted to become an actress, a goal that she would do everything to reach.
In 1932 she married an Irish banker in her native town, William McFeeters. They were married for seven years, but divorced when Maria went to New York, her beautiful and exotic looks giving her a job as a model.
Determined to become an actress she hired an agent that changed her year of birth to 1917, and sometimes 1918, to make her younger. Her first film offer was from Universal Pictures for a B western called Boss of Bullion (1940) starring Johnny Mack Brown.

Maria Montez and Jon Hall made six films together. Picture from 1944.

Her latin beauty soon landed more parts for her, Technicolor adventure films being popular during the WWII years when the public wanted to escape their tough realities. She starred in no less than six films with Jon Hall, the titles saying a lot of what kind of films we're talking about: Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), Cobra Woman (1944), Gypsy Wildcat (1944) and Sudan (1945).

Trailer for Arabian Nights (1942) starring Maria Montez, Jon Hall and Sabu.

Scene: Maria Montez's famous dance in Cobra Woman (1944).

While working in Hollywood Montez met and married french actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. Their wedding was held July 13th, 1943 (after Montez had consulted her astrologer about the chosen date) and they reportedly kissed each other 112 times during the ceremony. A few days later Aumont had to go to war.
During the war, pictures of Maria Montez covered the inside of many a soldier's lockers, alongside Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner.

Maria Montez and Jean-Pierre Aumont on their wedding day.

Montez and Aumont.

Montez and Aumont with their daughter (b. 1946), Tina Aumont.

By 1945 Montez had tired of being typecast in escapist films and B films, and refused to play in Universal's next project, Frontier Gal (1945). The role went to Yvonne DeCarlo, that alongside Maureen O'Hara became Universal's new film stars.
In February 1946 the couple had a daughter, Maria Christina (now more famous as a model under the name of Tina Aumont), and after that Montez moved to Paris with her husband, were they received a warm welcome by the French people. (Montez was the first American film star visiting France after WWII.)

On the cover of Movie Life magazine, January 1944.

Montez travelled to Italy and made some films there in the late 1940's, but as a great Hollywood star she had now faded.
At the age of only 39 Montez was found dead at her home in Paris September 7, 1951. She had suffered a heart attack and drowned in her bath tub.

Montez by a portrait of herself.

Other nicknames for Maria Montez:

Dominican Dynamite
Hollywood Syren
Tempestuous Montez
The Caribbean Cyclone

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The Great Ziegfeld
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
USA 1936
185 min

The Great Ziegfeld is a semi-biographical musical drama about the life of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr, the American Broadway manager and creator of the Ziegfeld Follies.
In this film Ziegfeld is played by William Powell, playing the smooth womaniser (who always keeps his eyes open for attractive women) to perfection.

Virginia Bruce as Audrey Dane.

The story begins with Ziegfeld's entrance in show business and ends with his death. Playing his first wife Anna Held (which in reality Ziegfeld never married, but in the film adaption I guess it looked better if they were married to the 1930's audience), is the amazing Luise Rainer, who also won a Best Actress Academy Award for her role. His second wife, actress Billie Burke, is played by the woman who plays the best wives - Myrna Loy (who, even though she is billed second, appears first after two hours and ten minutes into the film).

One of the amazing musical sequences.

The tagline of the film was "10 Big Shows in 1", which is quite right. I thought that a three hour long musical had to have a lot of suicide-tempting meaningless dance numbers, but I was totally wrong. All the dance numbers are beyond impressing - they're magnificent. The choreography is very inspiring, and I can't imagine how many hours were spent on rehearsals. All these people dancing without bumping into each other, and on top of that makes it seem so easy - magnificent is the word.

Esther Muir, William Powell and Fanny Brice (as herself).

The actors and actresses is well chosen for their parts, too. I can't mention them all, but Frank Morgan as the friend and rival Billings is worth mentioning, and so is Virginia Bruce as Audrey and Fanny Brice as herself.
One interesting thing, that makes me think that the casting of actors was very thoughtfully done, is that you can see the resemblance between the real persons and the characters in the film. Here are som examples:

Anna Held and Luise Rainer.

Billie Burke and Myrna Loy.

Florenz Ziegfeld and Billie Burke, and William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Sandow and Nat Pendleton. (Remember him from The Thin Man and Manhattan Melodrama?)

And I have to include the scene which is believed to have been the one who settled the Oscar statue for Luise Rainer. That is called real acting, I was really stunned when I watched it.

And a proud Luise Rainer at the Academy Awards, 1937:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Competition III

Competition: Who is this actress-to-be?

The winner gets, as usual, to decide a favourite actor/actress/director of whom I will write about!

Hangover Square (1945)

Hangover Square
Director: John Brahm
USA 1945
77 min

A dramatic thriller set in a foggy London in the beginning of the 20th century. A composer, George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) struggles with the writing of a piano concerto, while he realizes that he suffer from black outs when he hears dissonance.
The film begins with this sequence:

After that George returns home to meet his girlfriend Barbara (Faye Marlowe). He has blood on his forehead and a knife in his pocket. He can't explain why to his girlfriend, because he can't remember. Soon they hear the newpaper boys shouting about a murder having been commited in that part of London where George had just been. Barbara persuades George to believe that he couldn't have done it. George is worried anyhow, and decides to contact a doctor he has heard of, that know a lot about the modern findings of psychology, Dr. Allan Middleton (played by the wonderful George Sanders).

Nightclub singer Netta (Linda Darnell).

The doctor advices him to take a break from the stress of writing the concerto, and befriend other London citizens. That's when George meet nightclub singer Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell). He becomes obsessed with her, and she takes advantage of his interest for her by making him write songs for her. George is too blind of devotion that he can't see that his stress returns, and soon other attempts of murders are commited around him.

Netta, using her femininity to get George to write songs for her.

Dr. Allan Middleton keeps his eyes open.

I saw this film for the first time yesterday, and I deeply regret that I hadn't seen it much sooner. This might be one of the greatest films I've ever seen, easily reaching the top ten. (Not that I ever rank the films I see, but if I did I'm sure this one would be on it.)
The actors are at their best, the music is both beautiful and inconvenient, the photography is wonderful with a great contrast in the gray scale. But most of all they managed to show the protagonist's dramatic change when he turns into a different person with uncomplicated and brilliant techniques. The noise in his head, the rings on the pool of water that pauses in its movements, and of course the brilliance of Laird Cregar's acting.

Here follows a great documentary on Laird Cregar that I found on the extra material for Hangover Square, which tragically enough was to be his last film. In only twenty minutes you learn a lot of him and the tragedy of his death.
(God, it took a lot of time before this piece of film was uploaded on the blog, so see it!)


George Harvey Bone: All my life I've had black little moods.

George Harvey Bone: But, Dr. Middleton, music is the most important thing in the world to me.
Dr. Allan Middleton: No, Mr. Bone, the most important thing is your life.

Netta Longdon: "All for you. There's not a thing I wouldn't or that I couldn't do." You wrote that for me, George. But you've never really tried to find out, have you?