Forgive my diversion into TV for a moment, but like a lot of you, I’ve gotten hooked on the new season of TWIN PEAKS. I coveted the silk robe Agent Cooper‘s former secretary Diane Evans wore in Part 7. Its colors and floral pattern look like something I’d wear because of my vintage sensibilities. When I went hunting for a good image of it, I stumbled across the photo of Cooper in his bathrobe in an earlier season. Again another red robe, but his looks like a Pendleton with abstract snow-capped mountains. Two red robes reflecting their wearer’s tastes and gender, but seemingly calling out to each other between seasons, symbolically marking each for the other half of the pair they once were. The more concrete print of her robe is a stronger image for a woman who wears bold clothes, maybe once simply for fashion, but perhaps now they buck her up and distract her from the bitterness and pain of her broken heart.
By msbethg in 1930s, Actors, Alfred Hitchcock, Directors, Era, Jamaica Inn (1939), Movies, Norman Lloyd Tags: Alfred Hitchcock, BAFTA LA, Cohen Film Classics, Cohen Media Group, Flicker Alley, granddaughter, granddaughters, Hitch, Hitchcock, Hollywood, interview, interviews, Jamaica Inn, Katie Fiala, KCET, KCETLink, Link TV, Los Angeles, Norman Lloyd, party, premiere, red carpet, Tere Carrubba
I’m back in after the JAMAICA INN (1939) premiere party, winding down and thinking abut what a great night it was. My first red carpet went well. Norman Lloyd, Tere Carrubba, and Katie Fiala were generous interviewees. They were eager to talk about and connect over Alfred Hitchcock. I recorded our conversations, so I may release the audio at some point, but look for a write-up of the event and a review of the film soon. First I’ll be co-hosting a Flicker Alley Blu-ray/DVD contest. Details will go live at 9 AM PDT!
By msbethg in 1920s, Actors, Actresses, Available on DVD, Blogathons, Children of Divorce (1927), Clara Bow, Divorce, Era, Esther Ralston, Flicker Alley's Children of Divorce, Gary Cooper, Genres, Hedda Hopper, Holidays, Movies, National Flapper Day, Silent Film, Sisterhood, Themes Tags: #NationalFlapperDay, 1920s, 1927, 20s, abandoned, abondonment, Blu-ray, child, childhood sweetheart, childhood sweethearts, children, Children of Divorce, Clara Bow, class, classism, convent, divorce, drama, dual format, dvd, edition, Esther Ralston, Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, flapper, flappers, Flicker Alley, Frank Lloyd, Gary Cooper, gold-digger, gold-digging, Hedda Hopper, husband, husbands, Jazz Age, Josef von Sternberg, Joyce Coad, marriage, melodrama, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, National Flapper Day, neglect, Paramount, Paramount Studios, romance, silent, Silent Film, twenties, wife, wives, Yvonne Pelletier
Before they were jazz babies, they were jazz orphans. Their parents’ marriages dissolved under the influence of new post-war mores, and childhoods became a belated war casualty. Lacking role models, another generation seems doomed to repeat their elders’ mistakes. That’s the world CHILDREN OF DIVORCE portrays, and at its center are two women who share an unbreakable bond of sisterhood forged by the shared trauma of neglect.
If the movie sounds like a weepie, be warned, it is! Heartstrings are pulled starting when cherubic Kitty Flanders (Joyce Coad) is left at a Parisian convent by her mother (Hedda Hopper). Only one girl, Jean Waddington (Yvonne Pelletier), befriends Kitty. When she’s terrified her first night, Jean shelters Kitty in her bed, and a precedent is set for their relationship. Jean becomes an adoptive and protective big sister.
A second precedent is sent when the girls meet Teddy Larrabee (Don Marion). He climbs over the grounds’ wall one day. He’s escaping bickering grown-ups and a woman mockingly flirting with him. He’s, also, a child of divorce. When the close-in-age Teddy and Jean meet, they are smitten. Sad and envious, Kitty laments she has no one. Kitty will continue to see others’ happiness and want it.
Kitty’s a classic little sister. Since Jean was slightly older than Kitty when her parents divorced, Kitty doesn’t have the background of family stability, albeit brief, Jean had. Jean easily slips into the caretaker role, and Kitty assumes the one of needing help and understanding. Jean loves Kitty, but that can’t cure her hurt.
Since Jean’s rich after her parents’ divorce, and Kitty isn’t, she must find a way to afford remaining in elite social circles. As she grows up, Kitty’s taught by her mother that money comes before love. There’s an implication that her mother isn’t simply concerned for Kitty’s well-being, but also that Kitty’s mother will use her daughter to achieve security. Jean can marry at her leisure.
Under such circumstances, it’s easy to see why Kitty ages into a partying, gold-digging flapper (Clara Bow) and Jean grows into a noble patrician (Esther Ralston). Despite their differences, the women are delighted when life reunites them. Their bond has lasted. Their relationship becomes complicated because of Teddy, now going by Ted (Gary Cooper).
When Jean bumps into him at a party of Kitty’s, old attractions resurface, but Jean disapproves of his hedonistic lifestyle. She encourages him to get a job in order to become worthy of being her husband. Love reforms Ted, but it can’t save him from Kitty’s machinations. He’s wealthy, and he’s wanted by someone Kitty admires. Once she gets Ted drunk at a party, he doesn’t stand a chance. He wakes up tousled and married—to Kitty!
This is the biggest test of Jean and Kitty’s love. Of course, Jean is angry about Kitty’s betrayal and Ted’s haplessness and unfaithfulness. Perhaps Jean sees this as an indicator she and Ted weren’t meant to be, but Kitty comes first when Jean makes her decision of what to do.
As the movie’s moral voice, Jean doesn’t believe in divorce, and she can’t deny Kitty a shot at happiness. Jean naively believes her friend and sweetheart can make a marriage work despite their incompatibility and lack of love. When Kitty insists that she will be a good wife, Jean relents and gives Ted to Kitty by not fighting for him—a decision that will lead to misery and tragedy.
Despite the love triangle, the movie’s central relationship is clearly Kitty and Jean’s. They get the most screen time. For one, Bow and Ralston were the experienced performers. Ted was Cooper’s first major role, one he was cast in at his lover Bow’s insistence. While in the final product he’s handsome and charismatic, on the set he was unsure and afraid, and he blew many takes. Panicked, he even fled filming and had to be brought back. He couldn’t be trusted to help carry the picture.
The result was the actresses were given the opportunity to explore their characters’ dualities. Ralston’s role is not as flashy as Bow’s. Ralston has to be the perfectly good friend. She has to be beautiful yet believably tossed over for Bow. She manages to be a strong, sympathetic presence. It would’ve been easy for Bow’s character to simply be the manipulative vamp, but she makes sure the audience knows every bad, later-regretted act comes from Kitty’s place of pain.
There’s symmetry in imagery emphasizing the women’s relationship. A powerful, early shot shows young Jean comforting young Kitty in bed at the convent. A second, equally affecting shot reminiscent of the first occurs near the film’s end. A grown-up Jean comforts a grown-up Kitty in bed. We never see either woman in bed with a man. For the women, the bed isn’t a sexual place, but a shared place of refuge. Whether escaping adult-caused problems or their own adult problems, it’s a place they return to together. Whatever happens, each has a sister to love her no matter what.
By msbethg in Actors, Comedies, First Time Watchers, Genres, Harold Lloyd, Movie Podcasts, Silent Film, Slapstick Tags: #TCMFF16, #TCMFF2016, Attaboy Clarence, Capitolfest, Christmas, comedy, Dan, episode, film, film fest, film festival, film festivals, film fests, films, First Time Watchers, Fritzi Kramer, Geek Cast Radio, Harold Lloyd, Hermano DaSilva, Hollywood, host, hosts, LA, Los Angeles, Love & Friendship, movie, movies, Movies Silently, New York, podcast, podcasts, Rome, Rome Capitol Theatre, Safety Last, San Francisco Silent Film, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, SF Silent Film, SF Silent Film Fest, SF Silent Film Festival, SFSFF.SFSFF20, silent, Silent Film, silent films, silents, slapstick, special, TCM, TCM Classic Film Festival, TCMFF, TCMFF 16, TCMFF 2016, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Phantom Carriage, Tim Costa, Turner Classic, Turner Classic Films, Turner Classic Movies, Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, Walter Vinci, Whit Stillman
I’d been keeping a secret for a little while, in case it fell through, but it happened! I made a guest appearance on First Time Watchers this week. It’s a movie podcast hosted by Tim Costa, Hermano DaSilva, and Walter Vinci. I want to disclose the last host is one of my cousins! Movie madness runs in my family.
The guys discuss films classic and new, and they have their own unique format. They decided to expand their coverage to include a three-part series on silent film. Dan from Geek Cast Radio started it off by reviewing The Phantom Carriage, and Fritzi Kramer from Movies, Silently talked about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
I concluded the series with Harold Lloyd‘s Safety Last (1923). In addition, I got to speak about how I got into movies and silents in particular, my recent trip to the TCM Classic Film Festival, some of the other film festivals I’ve been lucky enough to attend (like The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Rome, New York’s Capitolfest), and a trailer that’s got me very excited to see its movie.
I’ve not been on the air in any form in a while, excluding my holiday wishes cameo on Attaboy Clarence‘s 2015 Christmas special, but I had a lot of fun. If you listen, let me know what you think of the show in the comments below!
Why the fervor over the Criterion Collection?
When DVD technology was new, I read in Movieline and other magazines filmmakers and actors praising the technology and claiming watching DVDs was like taking a film class. DVDs offered extras that most VHS tapes did not. Today the content on DVDs and Blu-rays varies. They might contain supplements, but if they’re made-on-demand, bonus features are likely to be minimal–if they are even included. The Criterion Collection carries on the tradition of educating film fanatics about the movies they love.
The company focuses on world classics and movies otherwise deemed culturally important. It packages home viewing copies in carefully designed cases usually including booklets containing essays written by experts on the films or their subject matters. Aspect ratio police can relax when watching a Criterion disc. When buying one, they will never buy a pan and scan, essentially a new directorial version of the film sacrificing its full screen image by cropping it to fit yesteryear’s square televisions. The distributor standardized the letterbox format for widescreen films on discs.
Sometimes Criterion’s licensing for movies lapses, and it cannot produce new copies for sale. The threat of time limited editions pressures movie lovers to buy discs sooner versus later. Tardy and unlucky cinéastes risk having hunt for them on the used market, where hard-to-get out-of-print editions can be costly.
As of my writing this post, a Google search of the words Criterion Collection yields 9.3 million hits. Most of that content isn’t even produced by the company. Fans share their Criterion hauls across social media. Some make blog posts and podcasts about individual films. Others go even further devoting their entire blogs and podcasts to covering only Criterion’s offerings. This blogathon is another contribution to the cult of Criterion!
In order to best cover Georges Franju‘s Judex (1963) for the Criterion Collection blogathon, I’m reviewing not only the film, but also its packaging and bonus features. I bought the dual-format edition, so all details following below refer to that edition, but a one-disc DVD edition is available.
Packaging & General Contents
The set comes in a sturdy box, squatter than a traditional DVD case, but of the same width and length. While the case is classic Blu-ray size, the plastic is not blue. It is clear, so that it does not detract from the cover artwork. Inside is a thirty-seven page booklet and three discs. One disc is a Blu-ray, and the other two are DVDs.
Packaging Design & Booklet Artwork
Art directors for this set are Sarah Habibi and Eric Skillman. The packaging design is by Skillman, “a Brooklyn-based designer, art director, and writer, best known for his work with The Criterion Collection, where he has been firmly ensconced since 2002.” Ron Wimberly, best known as a comics writer and artist, provides the illustrations, including the cover image. He designed the box art for Criterion’s Zatoichi collection.
Their challenge was to make the package and booklet visually tie into the Judex’s silent film aesthetics. They did a superb job! All design elements are in the color palette of silent film. They’re in whites, blacks, and grays with orange added as the one vivid, popping color. A modernized, meaning streamlined, art nouveau style is found in every design element. Major sections of the booklet are demarcated by intertitle-style boxes with art nouveau framing, and those frames are copies of ones in the movie’s opening credit sequence. Art nouveau embellishments mark essay and interview breaks. Wimberly’s illustrations have a simplified style. His subjects from the film are immediately recognizable, but they’re rendered in a style where the film’s decadent art nouveau aesthetic meets a graphic novel pop art style.
The booklet contains the film’s cast and credits listings, the essay The Secret of Heart of Judex by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien, selected commentary by the director entitled Franju on Judex, information on the transfer, special thanks and acknowledgements, and productions credits. O’Brien’s essay covers a lot of ground, from Louis Feuillade‘s cinematic contributions and rediscovery, to his original Judex (1916), to what both directors have in common, to an evaluation of Franju’s version, and to how a reimagining of Feuillade’s Judex could result in a highly personal film for Franju with a lasting contribution to pop culture. In his commentary, Franju discusses how he actually wanted to remake Fantômas, but was solicited to remake Judex and how he modernized the telling of the tale while attempting to keep the original film’s atmosphere. He reveals how he felt about his main actors and characters. For example, his muse and frequent collaborator Édith Scob gave him déjà vu when he first met her. A diversion into Le grand Méliès connects back to Judex, but before it does some wonderful anecdotes about Jehanne d’Alcy, Méliès second wife and widow, are shared.
According to the booklet, “Judex is presented in its original aspect ratio of about 1.66:1.” On my widescreen television, the film’s images filled my screen without any letterboxing, but on standard 4:3 televisions and some widescreen models, you may see black bars to maintain screen format. The new transfer “was recreated in 2k resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative.” During the restoration process, “thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed.” The resulting movie I watched has a gorgeous look, clear of signs of aging with the dreamlike silent film aesthetic intact and details in set design, clothing, and actors’ expressions readily studiable.
While this Judex is a near silent in some parts, it has spoken dialogue and a soundtrack by Maurice Jarre, another frequent collaborator with Georges Franju. From the booklet: “The original monoaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.” Again no signs of aging are audible in the movie’s soundtrack. The resulting soundtrack is clear.
Contents of the Three Discs
The single Blu-ray contains the movie, a searchable timeline, film chapters, supplements, and an option to turn off or on English subtitles (The default is on). DVD 1 contains the movie, film chapters, and the option to turn off or on English subtitles. DVD 2 contains the DVD version of all the supplements found on the Blu-ray disc.
The menu screen design of the Blu-ray is quite clever. As you prepare to watch the movie or its extras, you see Judex’s observation screen. Images from the film play within its frame on a loop. The soundtrack has a shorter loop than the images. It features a segment sounding quite sci-fi. You’ll likely not leave on the menu screen too long before the sounds of such a short loop get annoyingly repetitive.
- The first bonus feature is an interview with Francine Bergé, who played Marie Verdier/Diana Monti. The interview was recorded in 2012 for Paris’s La Cinémathèque française. She talks about what it was like working with Franju and the other actors and what a fun time she had on the set. Franju’s main character direction was for her to play her role as “evil.” She relates a sad on the set tale about costar Channing Pollock.
- The second is a 2007 interview with Judex cowriter Jacques Champreux. Franju credited Champreux for removing any aspect resembling movie serials in their retelling. He called Champreux “a habitué of the Boulevard of Crime” and one of “the most creative writers.” Champreux was involved with the project first, and he was the one who solicited Franju to participate. Champreux, also, happened to be the grandson of Louis Feuillade.
- The third supplement is Franju Le Visionnaire. It’s a fifty-minute program consisting of interviews with Franju that spanned twenty-three years. The last was filmed shortly before his death. Clips of his better known films are spliced into the interviews, and works covered include his documentaries, like Le sang des bêtes/Blood of the Beasts, as well as his fiction films, like Les Yeux sans visage/Eyes without a Face. Franju Le Visionnaire was originally broadcast as part of the French television series Cinéma, de notre temps in 1998. The interviews expand on the booklet’s material in Franju on Judex going deeper into his film-making philosophies and techniques and his work on Judex.
- The fourth is short Le grand Méliès (1952). It’s a biographical tribute to early film pioneer Georges Méliès, whose movie career ended around the onset of World War I. Méliès started in magic theatre shows, and after seeing the Lumière brothers privately demonstrate their cinematograph, he knew it could be used for entertainment purposes. Franju’s film starts when elderly Méliès runs a toy store and jumps to the end of his pure theatre career as he segues into his movie career before ending in 1953, past Méliès death. His wife Jehanne d’Alcy plays herself, and Méliès’ son André plays his father. The movie is a creative way of teaching film history while demonstrating early film-making techniques.
- The final extra is Hôtel des Invalides (1951). It features music by Maurice Jarre and cinematography by Marcel Fraedetal, both collaborators on Judex. It’s an antiwar documentary short. Hôtel starts off seeming like a simple cinematic tour of the museum in the former hospital. We follow a young couple visiting the site. The movie ultimately shows the human cost of war. We’re shown the place’s burial site, and we’re shown physically and likely psychologically wounded veterans being celebrated for their service. Hôtel hints war is not over as one of its final shorts contains child soldiers, eager to grow up and serve.
If you have seen Louis Feuillade’s movie serials Judex (1916) and Les Vampires (1915), you’ll get the most enjoyment out of this film. While it functions as an entertainment on its own, including scenes of original, strong imagery, it’s a lot more fun to see the ways in which Georges Franju’s film remains faithful to its source material and when it deviates. Placed throughout the movie are what we now call Easter eggs to Musidora‘s performance as Irma Vep in Les Vampires. Franju was known for mixing documentary style with the dreamlike, and his Judex screens like we’re watching his fever dream that crosses Feuillade’s films and a groovy, sixties crime thriller.
Franju loved how monochromatic silent film made everything beautiful, even the mundane. He was influenced by surrealism, expressionism, documentaries, and the French “tradition of quality.” Aware of his influences, he was driven to pursue his own vision: “I like films that make me dream, but I don’t like anyone to to dream for me.” He discovered Louise Feuillade’s films in 1938. He and Henri Langlois “included some of them in a retrospective program at the Venice Film Festival.” Franju complimented Feuillade saying, his style “does not seem like a style. . .His way of telling the simple or crazy stories that are made still more extraordinary by the familiar natural settings whose reality–the truth–always makes them beautiful.” It’s hard not to read that description and see those elements in Franju’s works.
Franju wanted to remake Fantômas, but its rights were not available, so he consented to work on Judex. He saw Judex, in the name of good, as being as horrible as Fantômas. In Franju’s film, Judex (Channing Pollock) loses his revenge tale. A backstory whose DNA can be found in pop culture creations like Batman is gone. Instead Judex metes out justice against the horrible banker Favraux (Michel Vitold) for no reason. Why did Judex decide to turn vigilante and punish Favraux for his crimes? Has Judex punished anyone else before? Is he letting out a dark side in the name of good? We never find out. Perhaps if Judex whims had turned another way, he’d be a criminal like Fantômas. Perhaps Franju’s Judex’s DNA can be found in television shows like Dexter.
Even though Judex’s targeting of Favraux starts the plot going, he becomes reactionary to the antics of Diana Monti (Francine Bergé), nanny to Favraux’s grandchild under the false name Marie Verdier. Diana has a scheme to marry Favraux, so she can get access to his wealth. Judex seems to kill Favraux at a party, and then Judex secretly kidnaps the comatose Favraux. Diana is the only one bright enough to realize the ruse. We’re never told what motivates her other than greed and jealousy, but Bergé is a better actor than Pollock and has more presence, so she makes the more use of her greater screen time. Her Diana is evil, sexy, and profane. A feat when following Musidora’s performances!
Édith Scob’s Jacqueline Favraux is Diana’s opposite. She’s the good woman whose strong moral character survives despite being the pawn of so many in the story. Her father Favraux had married her off too young to a man old enough to leave her a widow with a young child. Her father plans to marry her off again for his convenience to a penniless man of low morals. After her father’s “death,” his true nature is revealed to her, and she renounces her portion of his fortune, while leaving her child’s in trust for her to decide what to do with it when she comes of age. Jacqueline’s suitor breaks their engagement, and her only remaining friend is family servant Vallieres. Thin Scob conveys a physical fragility later exploited by Diana, and Scob gives Jacqueline’s eyes a haunting, soulful look that replaces her initial sunniness and naiveté.
Judex and Jacqueline stand in Diana’s way. She needs to find Favraux to “save” him so she can marry him. Judex knows where Favraux is, and Jacqueline is the heir who can make trouble for Diana and prevent her marriage. Diana repeatedly attacks Jacqueline, and while Judex doesn’t prevent the attacks, he’s too consumed in punishing her father, he repeatedly saves her. It’s sheer luck that Diana’s efforts don’t kill Jacqueline before Judex’s appearances. Further speaking to his impotency against Diana, it will be another female, Daisy (Sylva Koscina), more robust than Jacqueline, but also a wearer of white, who will prove to be more than Diana’s equal in a rooftop battle.
The film’s setting exists in an alternate reality merging 1914 and 1963. All the cars driven are vintage, and one neat scene features headlights being lit by hand with flame. The characters wear sixties clothing that echoes their characters’ silent film origins. There’s a tribute scene to Les Vampires’ Apache dance sequence. Diana and her boyfriend Morales (Théo Sarapo), are dressed like mod reinterpretations of Irma Vep and her companion. Judex has gadgets and a secret lair like in the silent, but they’re upgraded for the sixties, like Judex’s observation mirror. Phones and decor remain vintage style. As in the original Judex and in Les Vampires, the decor offers much eye candy and design inspiration. My favorite set piece is Favraux’s art nouveau embroidered desk chair.
Franju fills his film with beautiful and surreal and frightening images. A kidnap attempt on Jacqueline is foiled when German shepherds suddenly appear on the grounds. They drive Diana and her henchman away, and one dog rests his paw protectively on Jacqueline. The scene is like something out of a fairy tale. In another scene while dressed as a nun, Diana attacks Jacqueline with a hypodermic needle. It’s done in daylight and in public, and no one notices. Later Diana has drugged Jacqueline dropped into the river, where she floats away. Shots of her in the water evoke Ophelia. Near film’s end, Judex’s men carefully scale the wall of Diana’s hideout. They move slowly up it like insects.
The movie’s standout scene is its masquerade ball. Pollock is best made use of in this sequence. The tall, handsome man stands outside the party. As the camera pans up his tuxedo, he’s revealed to be wearing a hawk’s mask, and its face looks toward the camera, breaking the fourth wall. He turns his attention to what appears to be a dead dove, picks it up, and carries it on his hand into and through the party onto the stage. With a sleight of hand, the dead dove becomes a living one and flies out toward the crowd. A crowd of people wearing bird and insect-like masks. Pollock was a stage illusionist best known for his grace in making doves appear out of nowhere. For a moment, Pollock has something in common with his director. Both skillfully make illusions to entertain.
By msbethg in Actors, Actresses, Anthony Perkins, CAIFF, Classic Hollywood, Debbie Reynolds, Directors, Divine, Documentaries, Dolores Hart, Film Festivals, Genres, Jeffrey Schwarz, John Waters, LBGTQ, Natalie Wood, Tab Hunter, Themes Tags: all-American, all-American boy, Allan Glaser, Anthony Perkins, Art Gelien, Arthur Gelien, Arthur Kelm, Battle Cry, beefcake, boy, broken, Brunswick Records, CAIFF, California Independent Film Festival, classic, classic film, classic film era, closet, closeted, Confidential, Confidential Magazine, Damn Yankees, Debbie Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, Dick Clayton, Divine, documentaries, documentary, Dolores Hart, Dot Records, Elvis Presley, era, family, gay, Gelien, German, Gertrude Gelien, Grease 2, Gun Belt, Gunman's Walk, Henry Willson, Hollywood, Hollywood closet, homosexual, horses, hunter, immigrant, Island of Desire, Jack Nicholson, Jack Warner, Jeffrey Schwarz, John Waters, Lafayette Escadrille, Lamorinda, Linda Darnell, magazine, man, Natalie Wood, New Rheem, New Rheem Theatre, Operation Bikini, Playhouse 90, Polyester, Portrait of a Murderer, Richard Clayton, Rock Hudson, Rory Calhoun, single mother, Sophia Loren, studio system, Tab Hunter, Tab Hunter Confidential, That Kind of Woman, The Burning Hills, The Girl He Left Behind, The Sea Chase, Tony Perkins, Too Much, Track of the Cat, Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Records, Warner Brothers, Young Love
Today we know that Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter had a secret. While he was working hard to become an actor appreciated for more than his looks, he was a gay man living in the closet, and that fact would have destroyed his career if it became common knowledge. It would have shattered his all-American boy image that peddled teenybopper magazines, records, and the periodic picture. The documentary Tab Hunter Confidential, an adaptation of the same-titled memoir, tastefully and lovingly tells his life story with a heavy focus on his performing career. The movie opened the 2015 California Independent Film Festival, the first time in the festival’s eighteen years a documentary was awarded that spot, at a sold out New Rheem Theatre.
The Lamorinda-area crowd skewed older, and a great number of Tab Hunter’s peers and original fans were in attendance. During the screening, they gasped when later studio-era stars’ images from their heyday were flashed onscreen. I detected in the outbursts a mixture of reactions–admiration of beauty, recognition, and youth briefly recaptured. When idols were shown aged while discussing the past, much of the audience momentarily murmured as they discussed with their seatmates performers’ appearances. One of the loudest reactions came from the revelation that actress Dolores Hart had become a nun. Viewing the movie with such a vocal group added to my fun!
I wasn’t well-versed in Hunter’s story before the movie, and I was more familiar with his revival period films, like Polyester and Grease 2, than his “glory era” flicks, but I emerged from the screening impressed with his attitude and what he accomplished in his life.
His German immigrant mother fled an abusive relationship and raised her two sons as a single mother. This would result in Hunter’s first name change. He was born Arthur Kelm, but his mother had the whole family revert to her maiden name Gelien. Finances were tight for the family, and Arthur Gelien started working at a young age. He was shovelling manure at a stable when he got word a film was being made nearby. He wandered over to watch the proceedings, and a chat with one of the actors, Dick Clayton, led to an introduction to agent Henry Willson, who specialized in representing pretty beefcake types. Willson invented Gelien’s third name. When Hunter rejected Troy Donahue as a potential moniker, Willson and Hunter agreed on Tab Hunter, a name inspired by the actor’s love of horses. A hunter is a type of competition show horse.
He soon landed his first lead role, Island of Desire (1952), co-starring Linda Darnell. The stranded-on-a-deserted island plot meant that Hunter didn’t wear much in the part, and he photographed well, but he acted poorly. His embarrassment didn’t discourage him. He was determined to become a better actor and score better parts, but his studio Warner Brothers was content to market him as “The Sigh Guy.”
There was repetition in the roles the studio assigned him. He was often cast as the younger love interest of an older or slightly older women (Island of Desire), as a soldier (The Sea Chase, Lafayette Escadrille, and The Girl He Left Behind), as a cowboy ( The Burning Hills, Gunman’s Walk, Gun Belt, and Track of the Cat), or some mixture of the other roles (Battle Cry and That Kind of Woman). He usually played the male lead and love interest and almost always the good guy. Gunman’s Walk gave him the chance to stretch his acting and play a villain, and he’d get a further chance to try edgier roles on TV like in Playhouse 90‘s live episode Portrait of a Murderer (1958).
Hunter had been a singer in his church choir, and to expand his career options, he cut a single for Dot Records called Young Love (1957). Unexpectedly it became a hit on the U.S. charts and knocked Elvis Presley‘s Too Much out of the number one spot. Young Love held the spot for six weeks. It fared even better in the U.K. where it was top of the charts for twelve weeks. Jack Warner was furious! He had Hunter under an exclusive contract, but Warner Brothers had no recording division, not since it sold off Brunswick Records. Warner’s releases were being licensed to other companies’ record labels, something that Jack Warner had been pressured to change by his executives. Hunter’s hit was the catalyst that caused Jack Warner to finally form Warner Bros. Records, and while Hunter never had such a big hit again, he steadily recorded for the label, and his singing inspired Warner to buy Damn Yankees‘ (1958) screen rights for the star.
Hunter’s career had survived an attempted outing by Confidential in 1955. He had left agent Willson to be represented by Dick Clayton. The former actor had become an agent, and Hunter was more comfortable working with Clayton, whom Hunter trusted more. Willson’s client Rock Hudson was going to be exposed by Confidential unless Willson could make a deal. In exchange for Confidential dropping their Hudson story, Willson gave them stories on Hunter and Rory Calhoun. In 1950, Hunter had been arrested for disorderly conduct after leaving a pajama party attended by homosexuals. Calhoun had kept secret the time he had served in prison. Neither man’s career suffered. The public didn’t seem to care what Confidential implied about Hunter, maybe they didn’t believe its claim, and Calhoun’s bad boy reputation and roles were further enhanced.
Jack Warner assured Hunter the incident would soon fade, and Hunter understood the role he was to play on and offscreen. The studio arranged dates for him, usually his latest co-star, and they would go out to functions together. Hunter enjoyed the dates. Even if he wasn’t interested romantically or sexually in the women he escorted, he had fun going with beautiful women to night clubs, parties, and premieres. He especially loved spending time with Natalie Wood, whom he adored like a “little sister.” Natalie never asked him why he never initiated anything romantic with her. They both knew they were out to promote their films and careers. Hunter remarked once they were done being photographed, they’d exit from the rear of a venue, and she’d run off to meet Dennis Hopper, and he’d go off to meet his real date. Debbie Reynolds was another beard, but she didn’t mind. She didn’t know Hunter was gay back then, but she had fun going out with him to events. “He wasn’t on the make, and women like that.”
Living in a time more conservative and traditional about sexual preference and identities and working in a field where he was required to present a very specific image of manhood, Hunter compartmentalized his life. He didn’t let his career prevent him from becoming involved with men, but he didn’t talk about being gay (a word he wouldn’t have known back then), or having lovers or boyfriends, and his studio didn’t ask him about his private life. They would protect him as long as he played his part and was a valuable commodity. Being raised by a strict, traditional German mother, he viewed his private life as something to be kept private whatever his sexual orientation was. In a story shared at the screening, he talked about how he never came out to her, but he’s sure she knew. After a romance with Anthony Perkins ended, she asked her son why she never saw Perkins anymore, and when Hunter explained they had drifted apart as friends, his mother thought for a moment and replied, “I’ve never been in love.”
Three things other than Hunter’s sexuality ended his early film career. The studio put him in lesser quality films as the sixties went on. Nothing can hurt a career worse than inferior product. The type of films and roles became an issue. The public’s tastes changed. Leading men were becoming more complicated and less wholesome as American counterculture influenced the movies. Hunter seemed like a throwback to an earlier era as stars like Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson became popular. The biggest blow to Hunter’s career was a strategic move that backfired. Unhappy with the films Warner Brothers was putting him in, he bought his contract and became a freelancer. Film work, good or bad, became even harder to get. He went to Europe and shot spaghetti westerns.
When John Waters contacted him for Polyester, Hunter was performing in American dinner theatre, and he was game to take a risk and spoof his former screen image. He treated Waters and Divine with respect, and Waters said Hunter made his part work by never winking at the camera and romancing Divine onscreen as he had his more famous leading ladies like Natalie Wood and Sophia Loren. Hunter’s gamble paid off, and he not only got offers and hired for roles (Grease 2), but also he went into producing, and that led to him meeting his life partner, Allan Glaser. After some health issues like a heart attack and stroke, Hunter retired from performing, even though he could have continued working. He decided that he was done with acting, and he settled back into private life.
What motivated someone like Hunter to tell his life story? He heard somebody else was writing his biography, and he knew since it was unauthorized they’d be able to write whatever they liked, true or not, and not in the way he would. In the film and in interviews, he says, “Why not get it from the horse’s mouth, instead of some horse’s ass after I’m gone?” He co-wrote his memoir with Eddie Muller first, and later Hunter’s partner convinced him to turn it into a movie. While Hunter doesn’t seem comfortable being a gay rights spokesperson, he does seem happy having his career recognized and being accepted by his fans. During the question and answer session post-screening, he told one laudatory gay man, “I don’t understand you young people,” and he went on to say but if you get something from my story then I’m glad.
By msbethg in Actors, Characters, Film Festivals, Film Posters, Genres, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Sherlock Holmes, Silent Film, William Gillette Tags: Castro, Castro District, Castro Theatre, fest, festival, festivals, film festival, film festivals, Holmes, San Francisco, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, SF, SF Silent Film Festival, SFSFF, SFSFF20, Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes, silent, Silent Film, silent films, silents, theater, William Gillette
Saturday’s post was the start of my San Francisco Silent Film Festival coverage. I’m happy to announce Spellbound by Movies has received official press accreditation to the festival! In the coming days, look to this blog for an in-depth preview to the festival, an interview or two, and onsite write-ups. I’ll be live-tweeting the event here as well.
If you’re attending the event, please comment and let me know! If you cannot attend, I hope my posts will give you a sense of what the festival and this years’ films are like.
By msbethg in Actors, Actresses, Alfred Hitchcock, Directors, Films, George Sanders, Joan Fontaine, Matthew Weiner, Quotations, Rebecca Tags: Alfred Hitchcock, character, dog, dogs, dogs on film, George Sanders, Hitchcock, Jack Favell, Jasper, Joan Fontaine, Matthew Weiner, moments, Mrs. de Winter, pets, Rebecca, The Paris Review, window
“You know that scene in Rebecca when Joan Fontaine is exploring the room where everything is monogrammed “Rebecca,” and George Sanders just appears in the window? It’s a ground-floor room, and he’s sitting in the window. He just slides his leg over the sash and walks into the room. You’re like, That guy could’ve come in through the front door, but I know so much about him because he came in the window. We all love moments like that.”
By msbethg in Actors, Actresses, Available on DVD, Blogathons, Genres, Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis, Miriam Hopkins, Pre-Code, Pre-Code, Uncategorized Tags: 1930s, 1932, affair, affairs, class, comedy, con, conman, conned, conning, conwoman, criminals, crooks, diamonds, Ernst Lubitsch, gems, gigolo, gigolos, heist, heists, Herbert Marshall, honesty, identity, jewel thief, jewel thieves, jewelry, jewels, Kay Francis, love, lovers, Lubitsch, Miriam Hopkins, pickpocket, pickpockets, pre-code, pre-codes, precode, precodes, rob, robbery, romance, shoplifter, steal, stolen, swindle, thief, thieves, thirties, Trouble in Paradise, understand, understanding, work
It’s hard not to get seduced into enjoying Trouble in Paradise. Ernst Lubitsch‘s 1932 pre-code delights on all levels. Leads Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall look their best while giving career high performances. The dialogue they speak with ease is witty, naughty, and quotable. They move about in gorgeous art deco sets. The celebrated Lubitsch Touch makes everything tastefully titillating as word, image, and actor chemistry combine in a tale of triangular romance that leaves no doubt about consummation between its male and female pairings. The question of which lady will win the man solely seems predetermined along class lines, but digging deeper it’s the characters’ attitudes toward work which will divide them.
When Miriam’s “Countess” meets with Marshall’s “Baron,” they’re both working, but they don’t realize that right away. The Baron’s invited the Countess to an assignation in his hotel room. We’ve been shown clues that the Baron is not what he seems. The film starts with a robbery, which we become sure that the Baron committed. There’s a tension in watching what may be a scene of romance or a seduction designed for further larceny. The Baron told his waiter he wanted a clandestine meal that would turn his Juliet into Cleopatra. He will soon learn how calculating the Countess really is! A phone call we’re privy to both ends of dispels her carefully crafted cover.
The Countess shows some signs of recognition first. “You know when I first saw you, I thought you were an American. Someone from another world. So entirely different. Oh. One gets so tired of one’s own class. Princes and counts and dukes and kings.” Her sharp eyes detected something about him from a distance that betrayed the role he was playing. He is from another world and another class. Her boredom of royalty and aristocracy sounds real. When she discovered he is like her, she was happy and “very proud.” What does she know? In which way are they alike? Her words sound equivocal.
Over dinner, she is the one to speak first. She admits visiting him for “a little adventure, but that “something’s changed” her, “and it isn’t the champagne.” What seems to be leading up to confession of love turns into an accusation! “Baron, you are a crook. You robbed the gentleman.” As she returns to eating her meal, he tells her he would have told her everything before she left his room. He, “with love” in his heart, says, “Countess, you are a thief.” He tells her she “tickled” him when lifting his wallet, but he did not mind since her embrace was “so sweet.” A game of one-upmanship becomes foreplay. Each shows what the other stole–his wallet, her pin, his watch, and her garter. The last item earns him gasps of respect and causes her to jump into his lap.
They introduce their real selves to each other. When she asks who he is, he starts by mentioning his most famous theft. He entered the The Bank of Constantinople, and he walked out with it. She’s delighted to learn he is The Gaston Monescu. While she, Lily, is not as well known as he, he gushes, “I loved you the moment I saw you. I’m mad about you.” His terms of endearment are all work-related. To him, she’s “my little shoplifter, my sweet little pickpocket, my darling.” He admires her and her craft. They are alike, and they are in love. A night together turns into almost a year of love and thievery.
Their mistake is stealing from a peace conference. He is caught and relieved of their loot by the police, but he escapes. That leaves them looking for more jobs, like stealing a jewel-encrusted purse from Kay Francis’s Madame Mariette Colet at the opera. She’s a young widow quite loose with her inherited money, and she paid 125,000 francs for a purse evaluated by Gaston to be worth only 40,000 francs. She’s innocent enough to believe it lost, so she advertises a reward of 20,000 francs for its safe return. Since the purse is worth less on the black market, Gaston and Lily decide to return the purse and use the money to celebrate their anniversary.
While returning the purse, Gaston sees the possibility of a longer con. Madame is bored “to distraction” by work and detail. She relies on others to maintain her interests and lives a care-free life in pursuit of pleasure and amusement. When she hints she’s uncomfortable bringing up the reward money, Gaston lets her know he’s not to proud to accept it being part of the “nouveau poor.” She’s attracted to him and intrigued by his flirting, so she offers this jobless man the position of personal secretary. Mariette had to let her last one go for having too much fun. He accepts, and over the months he manipulates the situation to be in control of her figure, assets, and household.
He even installs Lily as his assistant. She’s uncomfortable with the gig because “this woman has more than jewelry.” Gaston assure Lily that Mariette’s only “sex appeal” is her safe full of money and jewels. In order not be be seen as competition by Mariette, Lily reduces her own sex appeal by wearing glasses and zipping up her tops. She’s Miriam Hopkins, so she’s gorgeous. Mariette decides to increase Lily’s salary by 50 francs so she’ll work harder to make Gaston freer from work, but only if Lily is gone by 5 PM each day. Mariette wants Gaston to herself in the evenings.
There’s the whole question of what kind of man Gaston is becoming. Is he falling in love with Madame and becoming redeemed? Is she in love with him or making him her latest amusement? She’s had string of buffoonish suitors she’s let hang around her for laughs. Will the thief be ruined by the widow? Lily is afraid the answer is yes, that Gaston with all of his skills and intelligence will fall into the lowest category of conman and manhood. “Darling, remember you are Gaston Monescu. You are a crook. I want you as a crook. I love you as a crook. I worship you as a crook. Steal! Swindle! Rob! Oh, but don’t become one of those useless, good for nothing gigolos.”
Gaston realizes his identity will be discovered soon, and though he makes plans to flee with Lily, Mariette and Gaston get closer. He tries to be the gentleman that Lily feared he will become and make sure association with a secretary won’t ruin Mariette’s reputation, but she doesn’t care about ruining his reputation. She promises him a long time ahead of them–“weeks, months, years.” She doesn’t care about their class or position differences or gossip. Her suitors figure they’ve lost her to this boring, “dependable,” “insignificant” man, the type women marry. They’re confusing their types with his, and they’re soon shocked with the revelation of who Gaston is!
Mariette goes to Gaston when she hears who he is. She must discover the truth for herself. Unlike Lily, criminality holds no appeal to her. She would act if she discovered she was robbed. She’s becoming embittered because she thought he loved her, not her money. She doesn’t understand a man who started with nothing and worked his way up, even if he started off the wrong way at first. No matter their love and how “marvelous” life could have been together, there will always be the threat of the policeman at the door with a warrant. Gaston’s profession has precluded their chance at happiness, even if she forgives his deception. They understand each other and their situation at last.
Gaston returns to Lily with a present taken by him but knowingly given by Mariette, an apology of sorts by both. Gaston and Lily resume their foreplay of mutual thievery from each other’s person, and she knows he has returned to her fully. She embraces him in delight. The crooks get a happier ending than the traditional heroine! They’ll live, love, and work side-by-side. Perhaps their eventual offspring will enter the family business.
This post is part of The Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Danny of Pre-Code.Com and Karen of Shadows and Satin. Please click the banner above to read more great entries about this fun time in motion pictures!
By msbethg in Actors, Actresses, Blogathons, Conrad Veidt, Genres, Spy Films, Vivien Leigh, War Films, World War One in Classic Film Tags: 1, 1918, 1937, agent, Baron Karl Von Marwitz, beginning, Belgian, blogathon, Blogathons, British, career, classic, classic film, classic films, classics, code, coded, codes, Conrad Veidt, counter-espionage, counterintelligence, Dark Journey, decode, double, double agent, ending, era, espionage, film, films, France, French, German, I, intelligence, Joan Gardner, Korda, London Films Production, lovers, Madeleine Goddard, motion picture, movie, movies, One, opposing, Paris, picture, semaphore, semaphores, sides, Silent Film, sound, spies, spy, star-crossed, Stockholm, Sweden, talkie, thriller, Victor Saville, Vivien Leigh, war, World, World War I, World War One, WWI
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.