World War One in Classic Film Blogathon: Dark Journey (1937)

Dark Journey Poster

Vivien Leigh viewed Dark Journey as a “personal failure.” It was her sixth film, but “her first true leading role,” and her lack of confidence during the production made her overly critical of her performance. She might not have counted it among her best, but she plays the part of Madeleine Goddard better than she thought. A double agent during World War One, her Madeleine is a mixture of surface, poise, nerves, and daring. Whether brought out intentionally or accidentally, all are qualities suitable to the role.

Dark Journey Meet the Baron

Her recollections likely were influenced by the movie’s complicated plot, which can be hard to follow. Technically neutral Stockholm, is swimming with spies for all sides. Keeping track of who is an agent and for what side is a task. Then romance is added via Conrad Veidt‘s Baron Karl Von Marwitz. He’s the German secret service leader sent to ferret out the the top spy of French counter-espionage in Stockholm–Madeleine. The theme of star-crossed lovers fighting for opposing sides becomes central to the film, but its most fascinating aspects are the dangers and mechanics of spying.

Dark Journey 1930s Coat & Hat

How accurate is the film at portraying World War One? In regard to portraying certain aspects of the times, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief intentionally. The film was released in 1937. It is set in 1918. Its fashions, make-up, and hairstyles are au courant to 1937. No attempt is made to dress characters in period clothing or stylings. Musically the movie is more faithful to its setting. Its main theme song is a romantic classical piece. Diegetic music in dancing, music hall, and concert scenes are period-appropriate. In street scenes, carriages and early model cars carry passengers to and fro.

Dark Journey Lupita

Any viewer will have to carefully watch performers and their costuming to track their characters’ nationalities. This is a London Films Production, and it’s a very obviously British-made film. The majority of cast actors are British, and only one British actress attempts her character’s accent. Joan Gardner‘s accent for Lupita may not sound quite Brazilian, but it helps keep her distinct, even before stealing scenes with her comedic chops. There’s a submarine scene in which actors speak German, which lends momentary authenticity, but the majority of the movie’s dialogue is in English. Conrad, as a German-born native in real life, sports his natural accent for his role. German, Swedish, French, and Belgian parts are portrayed with British accents.

Dark Journey Cherry Orchard

More care was taken in depicting the wartime activities that occurred in Sweden. The film’s director Victor Saville travelled there for research and met “a retired vice navy admiral who had run the Swedish counterintelligence bureau during the war.” The former officer acted as a technical adviser to the film. His help may be partially why the spy scenes are weightier than the romance. The film starts with Madeleine’s sea journey interrupted by a German submarine. Although the waters between Paris and Stockholm are neutral, her ship is stopped, boarded, and searched for a spy by the German soldiers. Each time she crosses a similar scene occurs, suspense builds as she wonders when they will be searching for her. At customs and immigration checkpoints, political activities are cautioned against, and potential agents are detained. There’s a club called the Cherry Orchard, full of spies partying and paying for information.

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The cleverest incident of espionage depicted involves the dresses Madeleine imports personally from Paris for her shop. Hidden among the normal frocks are ones with coded messages. The first shown is a sheer number with embroidery. She places it over a lampshade and lines up their markings. The lampshade’s once innocuous map design decodes secret troop movements when paired with the lamp. Coordinates were sewn onto the dress. A fellow spy rushes upstairs to unpack a near empty suitcase. Inside he pulls out a flat surface and what looks like a very basic, flat skeleton of a puppet. He’s setting up a shadow show in front of the window. He projects the image of  the apparatus’s moving arms. They act as and are interpreted like semaphores by another spy on a ship in nearby waters. That is how a message from France decoded in Stockholm gets passed on to Berlin.

Dark Journey Close-Up

Back to the romance, it is not fully believable for reasons outside of plot. Vivien Leigh is photographed beautifully, and she’s dressed and styled impeccably for most of the movie. Even without being investigated by multiple intelligence agencies, her Madeleine would be pursued by many men. Conrad Veidt looks handsome, and he adds class to some lines of dialogue that would have sounded smarmier coming out of another mouth. His Karl may be older than Madeleine, but neither that nor their spying is what makes them seem an unlikely match. They do not have chemistry even though both actors try very hard to create it. The ultimate example of this is a kiss that’s supposed to be their most romantic; it looks very awkward, and the moment falls flat for me. Their ardent fans watching this film will feel their charisma, and any attractions to the performers might be projected onto the lovers they portray. Their star power might make this a quibble to some.

Dark Journey

This is not a movie for history purists, who cannot enjoy one with anachronisms. If you want to experience World War One Stockholm exactly as it was, you will be disappointed with this film. Those wanting an entertaining film with moments of genuine suspense and intrigue will get what they seek. Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt fans should watch this, even if they are not completists. Vivien fans will get to see her two years before Gone With The Wind, and they’ll see how much she developed as a screen actress between both films. She, also, has relatively few films to see for a star of her magnitude. While he has many more credits due to starting in the silent film era, he would only live for six years more after making this film. He may be playing yet another German officer as he did during his talkie career, but he brings more to the role than is written, both in its dramatic and comedic scenes. This film captures the moment before one performer’s stardom, and another’s unexpected twilight.

 

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This post was part of the World War One in Classic Film Blogathon, hosted by  Fritzi from Movies Silently and Lea at Silent-Ology. Please click the banner above to be brought to a list of the blogathon’s other participants! They’re a great  group covering a wide range of silent and classic films, celebrated and obscure, about the first Great War.

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That’s Not Musidora! A Case of Mistaken Identity Compounded by Tumblr

Perhaps it’s not unexpected that an actress who’s best remembered for playing a disguised thief suffers from a case of mistaken identity on the internet. In the silent film Les Vampires, Musidora plays Irma Vep, who dons a catsuit for convenience in movement as she commits her crimes. This may be the first cinematic catsuit, and it was followed by many in popular culture. It definitely was the first to have an erotic impact on the public. In a compliment of reverse chronology, Musidora has been called the Brigitte Bardot of her day. Musidora’s catsuit helped whip that fever of appreciation up. Particularly striking are the shots of her navigating the rooftops of Paris. Was she a dream or nightmare about to descend into a home? This most iconic image of her inspired a tribute photography shoot, and thanks to the lack of verification and attribution of images on the net, sites ranging from Tumblr to serious movie blogs to even an academic page accidentally have perpetuated a case of mistaken identity.

One image from this photo shoot appears repeatedly on the net, credited as Musidora:

Lys Reygor as Irma Vep Rooftop

As soon as I saw it, I knew this photo was not of Musidora. The model’s bone structure is wrong. The make-up is much too intentionally gothic. While Musidora wore make-up in her Les Vampires performance, her make-up looks naturalistic in comparison to this person in whiteface. The black brows are drawn on and do not match the more organic curve of Musidora’s. The model’s eyes are very kohled. The lipstick reads as actually black on film versus red lipstick photographing darkly. Another dip a little too far into the exaggeration of Musidora’s image is the black beauty mark. Musidora did not sport one in the film. Even the outfit is not quite correct. The model wears lace gloves reminiscent of a style popular in the 1980s. In the film, Musidora wears more practical opaque gloves. Maybe in honor of René Gruau‘s portrait of the actress in her most famous role, the model clutches beaded necklaces, something the character of Irma Vep does not do when jumping rooftops in the film. She’s stealthier than that. Plus, the photo looks too modern and crisp, even for one that might have digitally restored.

Here are some images of Musidora as Irma Vep in the catsuit for your comparison:

Musidora in Catsuit for Les Vampires

Musidora Catsuit Lying down in Les Vampires

Musidora Catsuit Searching in Les Vampires

Musidora Catsuit Caught in Les Vampires

My first step in solving the mystery of who took this photo of whom was to Google. I searched the web via text and via image, and I finally used the correct search words with the picture. I found that while Tumblr was the most guilty in attributing the photograph incorrectly, it also held my answer of the image’s origins. Lys Reygor’s Tumblr shows multiple copies of this image. Under one, a Tumblr user going by the name Jadé Antoinette credits Lys Reygor as the model and Béatrice Tatareau as the photographer. The photo shoot site is listed as Bordeaux.

Lys Reygor Tumblr Proof

I then used those three names as search terms, and I eventually found Béatrice Tatareau’s Musidora-inspired photographs on a French site called Wizzz. There was a whole gallery of them to scroll through. Off to the side was a citation of model (Lys Reygor), place (a rooftop in Notre-Dame, Bordeaux), year (1985), and photographer (Béatrice Tatareau). I had found proof of Jadé Antoinette’s claim! In doing so, I proved what I knew was true–That’s not Musidora!

My excitement at being right was moderated by the artist’s biography on Wizzz:

“Deux de mes photos de la série Sur les toits, rue Notre-Dame, Bordeaux, 1985 sont légendées à tort sur internet sous le nom de l’actrice Musidora, Irma Vep dans Les Vampires, le film de Louis Feuillade (1915) © Gaumont. Je tiens à préciser que je suis l’auteure de ces œuvres, épreuves argentiques N&B datant de 1985. Je signale ici l’appartenance de mes photographies au patrimoine de l’ADAGP. Merci de votre visite.”

Roughly translated by Google into English, it says:

“Two of my photos from the series on the roofs, Notre Dame, Bordeaux 1985 are wrongly captioned on the Internet under the name of the actress Musidora, Irma Vep in Les Vampires, Louis Feuillade ‘s film (1915) © Gaumont . I want to say that I am the author of these works, B & W silver prints dating from 1985, I note here of my photographs belonging to the heritage of the ADAGP. Thank you for your visit.”

I initially took up my search to disprove the the photograph’s authenticity. I did not want Musidora incorrectly identified anymore. There is not as much available documentation on the actress in English as there is in French, so I was going to assist with that in this case. I’m now asserting the authorship of the photograph and the others in its series as well. Tatareau is in the odd position of having a photograph become widely distributed online, which could be seen as a mark of success for her piece, yet not getting credit. It must be an odd position to be in as a creator! Film fans often get excited about potent photographs and share them quickly and frequently. Tatareau’s is a good example of making sure what you share is genuine. It’s, also, a reminder to give credit to photographers when we can. We’re sharing their work and creativity.

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World War One in Classic Film Blogathon

Dark Journey

“Art is a wound turned into light,” said painter Georges Braque. It’s only fitting then that the place of light and shadows, the cinema, was where those early generations turned to make sense of The Great War. As soon as it was over, the first films featuring it as a subject came out. They still come out today. Current generations are far enough removed that even fictional films teach them the facts of World War One.  They think their films grittier, so they’d be shocked at what some silent and classic films show.

In honor of World War One’s centennial, Fritzi from Movies Silently and Lea at Silent-Ology are hosting a blogathon to shine light on this complicated piece of the past and the fine films of the classic and silent eras depicting it. Their blogathon called World War One in Classic Film runs September 6-7, 2014. Besides Fritzi and Lea, a number writers from the classic film blogosphere are participating. They include Danny from Pre-Code.Com, Aurora from Once upon a screen, Caftan Woman, Cliff from Immortal Ephemera, Janet from Sister Celluloid, and Ruth of Silver Screenings.

As you may have guessed, Spellbound by Movies is participating! The above still is from the movie I’ll be writing about–Dark Journey starring Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt. Set in neutral, but hardly inactive Sweden, they play two spies working for opposing sides. Their latest assignments require spying on each other, and they fall in love. Check back here next month to learn more about their tragic romance.

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Fabulous Films of the 50s CMBA Blogathon: It Should Happen to You (1954)

 

It Should Happen to You Poster

 

Garson Kanin originally wrote It Should Happen to You as a vehicle for Danny Kaye. When his creative partner and wife Ruth Gordon read it, she knew who would be perfect for the part—Judy Holliday! The script was rewritten for her. What resulted was part satire on the pursuit of fame and part romantic comedy.  At its center is Judy’s character Gladys Glover, an American girl who’s average, but not too average, possessing more than a smidgen of Billie Dawn’s initial ditziness, but a lot more ambition. She wants to make a name for herself. She’s not sure at what or how, but she’s got the will to make her way, and the $1,000 in her bank account will help her.

It Should Happen to You Gladys's Feet

When we first meet Gladys, she’s roaming the park depressed and shoeless. She’s lost her job modeling girdles on account of being ¾ of an inch too wide. A transplant to New York City, she travelled there with the hopes of many young women. She wanted to make it big in the city and not through marriage. Now she’s been there two years, and she fears even if she had not lost her job she would be getting nowhere in her quest not to be nobody. She’s removed her shoes in order to think about what to do next.

It Should Happen to You Altercation

Her shoelessness and a hilarious altercation with another park patron accusing her of trying to pick him up draw the attention of documentary filmmaker Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon). He’s another transplant, and the two bond over the unfriendliness of New Yorkers. That may be an in-joke because offscreen Judy and Jack bonded because they were both native New Yorkers in Hollywood. She’s very hard on herself to him saying her name isn’t “much of a name” because “nobody ever heard of it, and I guess nobody ever will.” He thinks she’s on the “young side,” and that’s why she’s so bothered.

It Should Happen to You Serious Talk

In some ways, Gladys’s lament could be made by any person. He or she moves somewhere like a big city and struggles to get ahead or even just to live. The grand ambitions of being important or doing something important can get lost in the daily grind of making that living. Combine that with the alienation involved in living somewhere you don’t know hardly anyone in an unfriendly seeming place, and the world becomes too much for some. As Gladys says, “Some people when they get to that point, when they realize they’re getting nowhere, you know, they just kill themselves. I don’t feel like it.”

It Should Happen to You You'll Get It

As a woman, she knows her options. “The only other thing is to go back home. Do the same thing as everybody else. Go back to work in the shoe factory. Marry the first man that asks or the second. And then good-bye name for yourself. Good-bye dreams. In fact, good-bye Charlie.” Her name could be replaced by her husband’s before she’s done anything with it. She’s presenting two options: Will she keep up her pursuit or give in to conventionality and become somebody’s wife? Pete assures her, “Good luck to you, Gladys. I sure hope you make a name for yourself if that’s what you want. If that’s what you really want, you’ll get it.” He gets her number to call her later, and he does.

It Should Happen to You This Space For Rent

 

It Should Happen to You Epiphany

 

It Should Happen to You Fantasy Billboard

Inspiration strikes when she sees an empty billboard in Columbus Circle! She will spend her savings to put her name up on the billboard. We’re treated to a fantasy sequence of Gladys imaging all the ways her name and image can be painted on the billboard. Judy makes Gladys seem so happy and genuine in her awe that we feel excited for her, too. She has no further plans than seeing her name erected in big letters for the maximum amount of time she can afford. She’s found her way to be “above the crowd.” She sets about her task immediately.

It Should Happen to You Weight Loss Ad

The film shows its screwball comedy roots by making the situation spiral out of control. That one billboard will lead to others and eventually a job of being famous to be famous. Gladys becomes a hit, especially on the TV circuit, where her quirky responses make audiences laugh. Soon those who contributed to her rise will find ways to make money off of her. Her name becomes known, but what will it mean to those who know it? Will success spoil Gladys Glover and cause a rift in her nascent relationship with Pete? Will she make her name stand for something or has she sold-out permanently?

It Should Happen to You Let's Fall in Love Reprise

Hidden within the comedy is a conservatism in Gladys’s represented choices. She can keep pursuing fame and become an oddity, or she can become Pete’s wife. What of a middle way? Kanin hints to us about her remaining ambition at film’s end. All that ambition would need an outlet. Daily household tasks would not be likely releases. Judy “liked playing characters who wouldn’t settle for being ordinary, who struggled to live their lives as responsibly and creatively as possible.” Judy enchants us as Gladys, and we want Gladys to be happy. We don’t want Gladys to settle even if she settles down with Pete. Judy keeps enough sparkle in Gladys’s eyes to hint at this third option.

 

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This post has been part of the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s blogathon Fabulous Films of the 50s. Find its other fun and fabulous entries here.

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Romantic Comedy Blogathon: Love Crazy (1941)

Love Crazy Poster

Love Crazy opens with Steve Ireland (William Powell) singing along with It’s Delightful to be Married. The film reunites him with frequent co-star Myrna Loy, playing his wife Susan. Together in the Thin Man series, they showed screengoers how delightful it was to be married. Their chemistry combined with their characters’ mature relationship with each other stood out in an industry often selling new love. Love Crazy takes that wonderfully familiar chemistry and slightly alters the actors’ Thin Man personas and inserts them into a romantic, screw ball comedy. The film even borrows a plot point from the original source material of its theme song. It came from Anna Held‘s Broadway hit The Parisian Model. In it, her character pretends to be something she is not. Steve has to pretend he is legally crazy to save his marriage!

Love Crazy Cuddlers

How did Steve get to that point? When the film starts, he’s revealed to be a devoted, romantic husband. He and Susan are about to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary. He has music and flowers ready. Combined with a nice dinner, that comprise the average man’s effort. Steve, being an architect, has grander plans. The couple’s anniversary ritual is to recreate their wedding night. It includes a four hour walk and canoe rowing. He’s just the sort of man that thought incorporating an “Eskimo” wedding ritual into his own would be great fun and make them legally married among the Eskimos. Because of his quirks and past partying, he’s the sort of man that will have difficulty convincing those familiar with him that he’s crazy. They’ll merely think he is tight. The man who likes to play has a harder time convincing others he has not reverted to his playboy ways when an ex-girlfriend moves into his apartment building.

Love Crazy Susan Ireland

Susan, “Honey Face,” seems like the perfect wife. Since Myrna portrays her, she’s beautiful in face, voice, and fashion. Her close-ups featuring that face framed by set curls don’t need to be shot using a haze lens to be dreamy. Her lilting voice charms, and her accent shows her character’s upper-class status. Her glamorous outfits enhance her stream-lined, yet womanly shape, and some of her gowns feature plunging necklines that might only be tasteful on her. Physically and in her character’s interactions with Powell’s (the “man who knew exactly what I wanted”), she embodies a healthy sexuality, made non-threatening by cinematic marriage. All these attributes alone would make female filmgoers want to be Myrna and thus Susan, even before Powell or Steve is taken into consideration. Her character is game for whatever fun her husband thinks up, even if it means celebrating their anniversary backwards.

Love Crazy Mrs. Cooper

Susan’s downfall is being too influenced by her mother, Florence Bates‘s Mrs. Cooper, and that woman does not like Steve.  Susan has a temper, so when hurt, she’s not above seeking revenge, a trait that is exploited by her mother. It’s no accident she chooses to interrupt their wedding anniversary. She pops by bearing a gift wanted by neither spouse, a circular carpet that not only does not go with their hallway floor, but also it’s actually dangerous. The floor is so polished that to walk on the carpet is to risk injury from falling. It’s almost as though she has left a trap to dispatch her son-in-law. She should be awarded a gold medal in undermining. She observes and waits to ask prying questions to find fault and aggravate any situation. Her being an interfering busybody leads to a misunderstanding that almost results in her daughter’s divorce!

Love Crazy Isobel Grayson

The movie follows the screwball convention of adding complication upon complication. Besides the meddling mother-in-law, there’s the previously mentioned ex-girlfriend, Isobel Grayson (Gail Patrick). She dated Steve immediately prior to him proposing to Susan, who has a very low opinion of Isobel. Susan doesn’t trust her. Susan shouldn’t. Steve has an elevator accident that provides one of film’s top visual gags. It even incorporates a dog for those missing Asta. Isobel happens to be present and takes him back to her apartment to recuperate, where she plies him alcohol and talks nostalgically about the “old times” and the “same old Stevie.” He resists her words and tickles(!) by saying “I’m married now,” and she quickly responds with “Well, so am I! What’s that got to do with it?” He answers, “You don’t stick to the rules.” Isobel and he have two different views of what marriage entails. His view matches her husband’s.

Love Crazy Mrs. Cooper Who Came to Dinner

So what’s the catalyst for the disharmony ahead? The unwanted carpet! The Mrs. Cooper finally decides to do the right thing and leave the lovebirds to celebrate alone. Shades of The Man Who Came to Dinner as she goes to exit, she walks across her gift, slips, and twists her ankle. Susan has to take over her mother’s errand of picking up her aunt from the train station, which will take all night. Steve gets stuck with his mother-in-law that whole time. That makes for some anniversary! He can’t be blamed for escaping out for the evening, but he makes a poor decision of accepting Isobel’s invitation to go out. Susan doesn’t like that one bit when her mother tattles. She decides to pull her own prank and sets up a scene for Steve to walk into. She will make him and Isobel jealous by getting caught in a set-up scene with Mr. “Pinky” Grayson (Donald MacBride).

Love Crazy Bow & Arrow Man

Of course, things don’t go as planned. This is a screwball comedy. She walks into the wrong man’s apartment. Ward Willoughby’s (Jack Carson) a world champion archer complete with athletic physique, and he thinks she’s pursuing him after seeing him in the elevator. What is it with that apartment building’s elevator inspiring possible romantic escapades? She thinks he’s Mr. Grayson. She’s surprised to find him in his undershirt practicing archery. When she confesses she’s waiting for her husband when he kisses her too enthusiastically, he suddenly fears a shakedown by blackmailers. He turns menacing, and her calling him Mr. Grayson makes him realize she’s in the wrong apartment. That’s his neighbor. He can’t help but be intrigued by this strange, beautiful woman.

Love Crazy Hall Confrontation

When she leaves his apartment, she sees Steve and Isobel in front of the Grayson apartment. Pinky returns home, realizes who Susan is, and wants to know why she kept him waiting at his studio upstairs. He was not home. Is Steve leaving the Grayson apartment, or are Steve and Isobel returning from a walk? The implication being that if he was in his married ex-girlfriend’s apartment with her and without her husband present some monkey business must have been going on. Will Susan trust Steve or jump to conclusions her mother would encourage? Susan’s jealousy ploy works, and Steve wants to know what she’s been up to with those two men.

Love Crazy Bedroom Heart-to-Heart

Later in Susan and Steve’s bedroom, they discuss the evening. Steve wants to be believed that he was on a walk with Isobel. She doesn’t want to be the “jealous type.” She asks for reassurance that her husband would never lie to her, and he responds, “Not on our anniversary.” Susan is amused by Steve wondering about her and Ward, and he wants to know why the other man was half-dressed. She tells him, “He has to have his torso free when he shoots his bow and arrow” “What kind of answer is that?” asks Steve. “He’s the world champion bow and arrower.” To that extraordinary sounding explanation, Steve can only respond, “You believe me, I’ll believe you.” A phone call soon shatters Susan’s belief in him. She no longer trusts him. Her mother has won.

Love Crazy Kissing Therapy

We spend the rest of the movie watching Steve try to win back Susan. First he has only two months to change her mind before their court hearing. When she hides away that whole time, he’s forced to take desperate measures. The only way to postpone their divorce is to appear to be crazy. His gags get crazier and funnier, and while they fool no one who knows him, they will be a little too convincing for the authorities. Can Steve get out of a sanatorium? Can he prevent Ward from stealing away his wife?  Can he convince her that nothing happened between him and Isobel? Can he win back Susan after all he’s done? Are you prepared to see Powell dressed as if he’s auditioning for Charley’s Aunt? Since the leads are played by Myrna Loy and William Powell, you likely will be able to answer before seeing the film!

Love Crazy "Miss" Ireland & Susan Ireland

The fun is watching how two film favorites play these love crazy fools and all the antics they get into. Because their characters are married and because of who plays them, the script can be a little franker about their sexuality and the possibility of adultery. The dialogue zingers reflect this, like when Susan and Steve talk about Isobel. Steve says, “She’s married now–got a husband.” Susan retorts, “Yeah? Whose husband has she got?” The film through comedy shows in an exaggerated way the pitfalls that could befall a modern marriage—lies, jealousy, meddlers, grudge holding, and outside interested parties. In providing us laughs and in reuniting the leads, we’re entertained and reassured. We’re reassured that despite the wacky situations they get themselves into they make it, so maybe our relationships can weather their more everyday ups and downs, too. The best romantic comedies always sell romance back to us.

Love Crazy The Wig is Off!

This has been a very belated entry in the Romantic Comedy Blogathon, hosted by Lara from Backlots and Vince from Carole & Co. To read entries from day one go here, day two here, day three here, and day four here. I’m sure you’ll find many of your favorite classic film romantic comedies being celebrated!

 

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Added to the Must Watch List: Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

What would you do if you stumbled upon the work of a talented artist, completely unrecognized in her lifetime?  John Maloof bought a lot of photographic negatives at an auction. He hoped they would help him research Chicago neighborhood history. Instead he became the keeper and promoter of their photographer’s legacy. He tracked down her other work split between auctions and buyers, and he bought the majority. He used the random receipts, notes, and other papers boxed with her prints and negatives to find out her name–Vivan Maier–and to find those who thought they knew her. His documentary Finding Vivian Maier explores this art world sensation, a private person who mastered street photography, shared it with no one, and never elicited curiosity.

Maier often is compared to Emily Dickinson, yet that comparison only partially works. While both woman found fame posthumously, Emily submitted her poetry for publication, and some of it appeared in print during her lifetime, albeit in edited versions that removed her literary idiosyncrasies. She began corresponding with critic T. W. Higginson for writing advice. Even at her most reclusive, she maintained close friendships through her letters. They are intimate, emotional, and not the least bit guarded. We can read them because they were preserved by their recipients. Emily did not do the same. Near the end of her life, she asked her sister Lavinia to burn her papers. That was a common practice of their time. Lavinia complied, but stopped at the poetry. She then pursued publication of her sister’s work, which she and others accomplished.

Vivian Maier was not a recluse like Emily. She worked as a nanny, and she roamed the streets amongst people to photograph them. Her subjects ranged from the wealthy to the homeless, so she navigated through the nicer and rougher city areas, sometimes with her charges. Maier chose when to be out in the world and when she would lock the door to her room to it. People knew Maier took photographs, but they seemed to assume they weren’t of any import. She made no effort to promote or publish or show her work, and she left a lot of her film undeveloped in rolls. She showed no planning in what was to be done with her art. She left it disorganized in lockers, and she lost it when she could no longer afford storage fees. Maloof’s hope of historical treasure saved her work from the obscurity she had chosen for herself. Perhaps she would have hated that.

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You Know You’re A Film Fanatic When–Judy Holliday!

Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn Posing in front of a Dictionary

 

You know you’re a film fanatic when you get emotional defending Judy Holliday‘s 1950 Oscar win for Born Yesterday to your husband–and he agrees with you the whole time!

Judy had formidable competition that year. She was up against Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for All About Eve, and Eleanor Parker for Caged. While the other actresses starred in dramas and noirs with camp elements, Judy was the only lead in a straight comedy. Two out of the four films, Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve, continue to inspire rabid devotion today. Anyone with general classic film knowledge knows those films.

Judy’s legacy has another hurdle. She’s not as well-known to people who aren’t classic film fans, and even some classic film fans aren’t too familiar with her. Also a stage actress, Judy left a limited amount of filmed work when she died young, and not all of it is in-print to view at home. In stills, she looks like yet another actress playing yet another voluptuous, dumb blonde.

On film, she could take a role that would be a caricature in lesser hands and make her a character. She never overintellectualized her roles. She made being and seeming look easy. Judy had that same ability as Clara Bow to quickly shift emotions and thoughts across her face. She could make you laugh and break your heart at the same time, and she did as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Out of the four nominees, she’s the only one whose role I can’t imagine being played by another with the same impact. She owned her part. No one else would have given as an affecting or original performance as Billie.

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The Little Tramp at 100, Part 1

Little Tramp at 100 A

Last month, The San Francisco Silent Film Festival joined a worldwide celebration of Charlie Chaplin with The Little Tramp at 100. Three programs celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the Little Tramp persona’s first film appearance.

The first screening featured Charlie’s work from his third studio, Mutual Film Corporation. Someone at the fest wittily titled this program Our Mutual Friend. It featured three shorts accompanied by Jon Mirsalis on solo piano. The shorts were The Vagabond (1916), The Cure (1917), and Easy Street (1917).

The Vagabond Poster

The Vagabond features the Little Tramp’s characteristic blend of comedy and drama. He’s a wandering violinist trying to earn his living busking. He settles on a saloon as a prime place to play only to be displaced by a much louder band. If his violin is going to be drowned out, he decides to “join” the band, collecting their tips for himself! Eventually his trickery is discovered, and he’s forced to flee those he fleeced, which sets him upon the path where he finds Edna Purviance‘s Gypsy Drudge.

Image Source: Discovering Chaplin

Her story is Dickensian. She was born to a wealthy family, but abducted by gypsies and forced into slavery. A chance meeting with the Little Tramp changes her life. He mistakes her for a paying audience, but while she loves his music, she has no money to give him. He ends up rescuing her from her captors, and their newly shared life is hardscrabble, but happy until a chance encounter with an artist threatens their relationship.

The Vagabond Cleaning Scene

The Tramp starts to take care of the Drudge, as he makes her more presentable to the world in his eyes. He cleans her face removing any dirt of the past, and he vigorously scrubs out every facial orifice, earholes and nostrils included! For maximum comedic effect, Edna the actress makes herself look as silly and awkward as possible, as she grimaces exaggeratedly during the Drudge’s cleaning. In her next scene with the Tramp, he’s “fixes” her hair. Her new hairstyle may be less wild, but it’s no more fashionable. The intimate physicality of these scenes shows the trust built between the characters, and it mirrors Edna’s offscreen trust in Charlie’s comedic instincts.

The Vagabond Eric Campbell

Eric Campbell, a former stage actor, was part of Charlie’s film troupe at this time. The role isn’t the most developed villain he played in Charlie’s films, but he uses his bulk to make the Gypsy Chieftain menacing, while finding the funny in the brute. The imposing Chieftain’s movements are comically floundering as he’s outwitted by Charlie’s tiny violinist.

The Cure Poster

The Cure spoofs the mineral water craze of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Spas or resorts used to be built around wells and springs spouting what was lauded as medicinal waters. They were reputed to do everything from improving libido to curing insanity. Though Charlie’s character The Inebriate goes to such a health spa to dry out with the wet cure, he arrives packing more liquor than some bars. He causes chaos everywhere he goes, especially when fleeing his treatments.

The Cure Chaplin & Purviance

The film features the comedy trio of Charlie, Edna, and Eric Campbell. The drunkard may have drink on the mind, but he’s not so distracted that he can’t find time to romance Edna’s The Girl. He has to work hard to impress her. Campbell’s The Man with Gout complicates their romance. The Inebriate accidentally keeps getting into scuffles with The Man, and The Man continually pesters The Girl. He follows her about, tries to sit near her, and tries to touch her. He’s much too forward.

The Cure's Inebriate vs the Masseur

Charlie’s outfits in this film aren’t the Little Tramp ones we’re used to. His resort clothes and the fact he can afford a rest stay show he’s portraying a much posher character. Later there are scenes of him resisting rough massages while attired in bathing gear. Seeing him stripped down, I could see how young he was by his skinniness, yet he possessed a trim muscularity that enabled his slapstick acrobatics. When The Inebriate starts dancing away from the feared Masseur, the bathing suit emphasizes his graceful control of limbs and movements.

The Cure Revolving Door Trap

There are no sad or dark moments in this film. It’s pure slapstick and satire. When The Inebriate attempts to enter the resort though its revolving door, Charlie signals we’re in for silliness. He spins round and round, popping in and out of the building, and soon traps The Man with Gout and an attendant in the door. The Inebriate finally ends up inside the building, still spinning his way through the lobby, up the stairs, and to his room. Those familiar with slapstick conventions might guess the giggle water he smuggles in will end up in the well, a situation that promises a film that will leave viewers drunk with good humor.

Easy Street Poster

Easy Street starts off with a darker world view. Charlie is back in his familiar tramp costume at the film’s beginning. His character, The Derelict, is so badly off he almost robs a rescue mission. Edna portrays a mission worker. Her kindness to him and his attraction to her inspires him to reform. He seeks work and gets hired as a policeman assigned an awful called slum Easy Street.

Easy Street Brawl

Our first view of Easy Street shows Eric Campbell’s The Bully brawling with the borough’s other crooks in the street. The living is not easy there, but if you’ve got brawn or guile, it’s easy to get away with whatever you want. It’s an anything goes place. We see that when two men are revealed on the ground at the center of the crowd. They’re getting mugged by the brawlers, who are fighting each over the pickings from their victims’ pockets.

Easy Street Lamp Scene

One of Chaplin’s chief conceits is coming up with imaginative ways for the little Derelict to defeat bigger and oftener brawnier bad guys. For example, being struck in the head with a police baton doesn’t phase The Bully. His thick skull protects him. He demonstrates his superior strength by bending a streetlight. The Tramp seems outmatched, but he gets a bright idea on how to use that gas lamp against his foe. The moment is hilariously surreal.

Easy Street Chaplin & Charlotte Mineau

The film gets darker when we meet more of the slum’s denizens. A sweet couple has too many children to feed, so Edna brings aid with assistance from Charlie. Charlie lightens the scene by feeding the babes like they’re a flock of chickens. In another apartment, there’s domestic violence. The Bully fights with his woman, and she pays him back in kind. Later Edna is threatened with rape by a heroin addict.

Easy Street Resolved

Since this is a comedy, it’s no spoiler to reveal that in the end Charlie makes life on easy street a little easier. How he does it brings laughs and it brings reassurance that the little guy can prevail and order can be restored.

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Tune in Tonight or Set Your DVRs! Souls for Sale Re-Airs on TCM.

Image Courtesy of Silents Are Golden

Image Courtesy of Silents Are Golden

This month marks the eighth anniversary of the Turner Classic Movies broadcast premiere of Souls for Sale (1923), and the network obliges silent film buffs by re-airing the film tonight at 9 PM PT/Midnight ET. Viewers who have never seen Rupert Hughes‘s film before or those who love movies about making movies are in for a treat!

Souls for Sale was once thought a lost film. Copies began being found in archives or shared by collectors in the eighties and nineties. Most were in rough shape and not all were complete. A collaboration between Turner Classic Movies and MGM resulted in a restored version of the film. Marcus Sjöwall won The Young Film Composers Competition to provide its soundtrack.

Roger Ebert called it, “drama, melodrama, romance and satire all at once–wrapped up in a behind-the-scenes look at how a desperate young woman fell into the movie business by accident and became a star.” That young woman, Remember “Mem” Steddon, is played by Eleanor Boardman in her lead debut. She’s given plenty of material.

Mem flees her quickly wed and highly suspect husband Owen Scudder (Lew Cody) on their wedding night. She hops off their honeymoon train and ends up lost in a desert before being rescued by a Sheik on a camel (Frank Mayo). Mem’s not hallucinating! She’s stumbled upon a film set. Despite Mem not initially being interested in a film career due to the industry’s scandalous reputation, she ends up an actress and caught in a love polygon completed by Richard Dix and Mae Busch. If that’s not enough to tempt you to watch, would a climactic scene taking place under a big top during a lightning storm?

Besides delivering plenty of plot, the movie offers many cameos. Actors and actresses like Blanche Sweet, Patsy Ruth Miller, Zasu Pitts, Dale FullerRaymond Griffith, Anna Q. Nilsson, Jean Hersholt, and Chester Conklin appear. Directors Erich von StroheimCharlie ChaplinKing Vidor (later Eleanor’s spouse), Fred Niblo, and Marshall Neilan are caught in front of the camera. Stroheim fans get the gift of a scene shot on Greed‘s set. Even rarely filmed screenwriter and editor June Mathis appears.

Overall, a fun movie offering plenty of silent film Easter eggs!

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Happy New Year!

Wishing you a wonderful New Year’s Eve and New Year! May both be filled with everyone and everything you love–like movies! As a special holiday treat for you, here is a scene from one of my favorite screwball comedies, Bachelor Mother (1939).

Its plot seems inspired by Clara Bow‘s It (1927). A salesgirl named Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers) falls for a department store heir, David Merlin (David Niven), and he for her. There’s even a baby he mistakes as hers. All those elements are in the Bow vehicle, but where the infant temporarily complicates her film’s plot, he’s the focus of Rogers’s. Polly finds an abandoned baby on a stoop, and everyone mistakes her as the mother. She can’t give the baby up. No one will let her! No one will believe the baby isn’t hers. Due to her being his employee, David makes her his project. He’s going to make sure she’s a good mother. His task isn’t hard because she soon loves the baby.

In the clip, he’s giving Polly a Cinderella night out. Decked out in finery from his store, she’s his stand-in New Year’s Eve date after getting the dust off from his girlfriend. Since this is a screwball comedy, he overcomplicates Polly’s presence by saying she’s Swedish and doesn’t speak English! Despite this impediment, she charms most of his friends. The scene starts with their departure and ends with a well-deserved zinger.

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