Clara Bow

Happy Valentine’s Day!


The holiday is over, and I’m off to slumber, but this redhead hopes your holiday was as least as good as hers!

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An Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood in CHILDREN OF DIVORCE (1927)

In honor of National Flapper Day, I’ve reposted my essay on CHILDREN OF DIVORCE (1927), which was originally published on Flicker Alley‘s blog.

Children of Divorce Cropped Poster

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.

Children of Divorce Kitty and Jean First Night

Joyce Coad & Yvonne Pelletier in CHILDREN OF DIVORCE

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).

Children of Divorce Ted Kitty Jean Reunited

Gary Cooper, Clara Bow, & Esther Ralston in CHILDREN OF DIVORCE

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 marriedto 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.

children-of-divorce-jean-listens-to-kitty
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.

Children of Divorce Kitty and Jean Last Time

Interested in seeing this movie? Flicker Alley releases it to dual edition disc on December 6, 2016. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra provides the score.

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Happy New Year–Especially for Fans of Clara Bow!

Clara Bow Calligraphic New Year

Happy New Year’s wishes go to readers of Spellbound! I suspect quite a few of you brought in the New Year by celebrating with cinematic treats. I did. Hubby and I brought in the New Year watching a pair of Deanna Durbin movies at the Stanford Theatre. We started with the 7:30 PM screening, which meant we got a Wurlitzer concert before and after our first film performed by Jerry Nagano. He put together a playlist full of romantic tunes, including What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? The whole audience could have answered, “Watching movies!”

That’s something the spellbound will have great opportunities for in the coming year. It promises to be a great one for revival and restoration screenings. Our calligraphic cutie Clara Bow kicks off the New Year with screenings that would tempt anyone to travel to catch her motion pictures. She’s featured in a series starting this week at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Call Her Savage: Clara Bow Hits the Screen. The series runs January 4, 2013 through February 10, 2013 in the Billy Wilder Theater, and it’s co-sponsored by the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program.

Clara Bow & Antonio Moreno in It

With Antonio Moreno in It

“Clara Bow Hits the Screen” is a great secondary title. She remains a charismatic and entertaining actress for all who are lucky or smart enough to watch one of her films today. Her impact on the audiences of yesteryear can’t be underestimated either. In her prime, she was the number one box office star in Hollywood beloved by both men and women and drawing them out to her movies, even when the scripts were weak. Her persona managed to fuse the flapper and her modern mores to a non-threatening likability normally demonstrated by the girl next door type. Of course, there were probably many who wished she was the girl next door–even today!

In Call Her Savage

In Call Her Savage

The series launches this Friday with Call Her Savage (1932) and Hoop-La (1933). These racy Pre-Codes come from near the end of her career and taunt us with her talkie potential, and their outlandish plots have to be seen to be believed. An extra bonus: The biographer of her definitive biography, Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild, David Stenn will be on hand to put her in context and discuss her life and career on January 4.

The Wild Party, a Collegiate Comedy

The Wild Party, a Collegiate Comedy

The subsequent screenings feature: Parisian Love (1925) and Capital Punishment (1925) on January 5, It (1927) and Children of Divorce (1927) on January 11, Wings (1927) on January 19, The Wild Party (1929) and a clip show of film fragments on February 8, and Kick-In (1931) and Her Wedding Night (1930) on February 10.

Clara Bow & Ralph Forbes in Her Wedding Night, still from the Clara Bow Archive

With Ralph Forbes in Her Wedding Night, still from the Clara Bow Archive

Wings, It, and The Wild Party promise to be crowd-pleasers. The clip show should be of particular interest to Bow buffs and “includes trailers from lost feature films, newsreels, recently discovered Technicolor outtakes, and Bow singing ‘True to the Navy‘ in the 1930 all-star revue Paramount on Parade.” Kick-In offers historical curiosity since it was her first film after the infamous Daisy DeVoe trial, which was damaging to Bow’s reputation at the time. It’s a testament to Bow that more people today ask Daisy Who?


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Quick Impressions from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival–Night One

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Logo

I’m overstimulated with images and sounds and staying up too late. That can mean only one thing–I’m attending the 17th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Well, most of it. Sometimes sleeping or eating has taken a priority over screenings or hobnobbing with friends old and new. Here are some quick impressions of the fest so far.

Night One

Clara Bow Red Hair Promo

Red Hair
Before Wings, We were treated to the color sequence that remains of this mostly lost Clara Bow film. Clara’s hair is as flashing red as I’ve read versus how it photographs more darkly in black and white. She’s vibrant and beautiful in color as she goofs around in her swimming trunks with a pelican. Even though she did not survive the advent of talking motion pictures due to temperament, she definitely could have survived the evolution of color film. Clara is one of filmdom’s biggest what-ifs.

Wings 1927 Paramount Poster

Wings
The second instance of Clara Bow at the fest. While Bow steals all her scenes, this is really a men’s picture. Charles “Buddy” Rogers (playing Jack) and Richard Arlen (playing David) are the featured stars. They’re in the now familiar story of young men growing up quickly into men when pressed into service. We follow their induction into this homosocial world as their friendship and platonic love develops and is tested by jealousy and fate. Ultimately their relationship ends in tragedy.

Arlen & Rogers Duo Shot from Wings

This was my first instance of seeing the film on the large screen. I’ve only seen it on the small box before. I noticed two slight, but fun things.

The first is naughty. When Jack and David enlist, there’s a door marked private in the background. It opens to reveal the backsides of some very athletic and trim male figures. The quick-eyed of the Castro audience made a sound at all this cheekiness. Then the door closes. If you think you imagined the nudity, the door opens another time to reveal the same distinguished figures. Later El Brendel‘s comic relief character Herman Schwimpf goes to the door and starts dropping his trousers, obviously an in-joke to what we’ve glimpsed behind the door, but he’s wearing his underwear, so we’re spared seeing if his character has tattoos other than on his arm.

El Brendel Enlists

I’ve read mention of how Rogers’ and Arlen’s swearing was not appreciated by all, but I’m not the best lip-reader, and I may have been hampered in the past by watching a diminished image, but I had no trouble discerning what was clearly said in the battle scenes. I think their swearing added realism, so I’m not against it.

Rogers Plane Shot

Now the major things.

Wings Tinted Flames Still

The print was gorgeous. Not only had they cleaned it up well, but I don’t remember seeing tinting previously. It was very effective seeing the flames associated with the flight battle scenes. Those planes were made of wood and full of gasoline and ammunition, so they would have made a spectacle burning. When the bad guys are hit, the flames are a relief because they mean our heroes are safe, but when they’re on our heroes’ planes, they add to the tension and our worries.

Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Wings was accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and foley artists. The orchestra always does a fine job of melding music to image, but the presence of such sophisticated sounds effects took the aural adornment to a new level. The sound effects helped make the audience gasp louder at each plane crash or mid-air collision. While we couldn’t feel the physical crashes, each boom added to our sensory experience giving more realism to our experience. Poking around on the internet, I’ve learned a little more about the foley artists from the screening. The “small army of Foley sound effects artists led by Star Wars veteran Ben Burtt and Mont Alto’s Rodney Sauer.”

I’ve some thoughts on the ending. I do not want to give anything away for those who have not seen the film, so read no further if you do not wish to be spoiled. You’ve been warned!

I’ve been thinking of character types and class and how they relate to the ending. Jack is the classic American type. He’s youthful, energetic, scrappy, ambitious, and middle class. He does not realize he’s in love with Clara Bow’s Mary, who’s a perfect match in qualities. He survives. David is sophisticated, genteel, rich, and stalwart. He’s in love with Jobyna Ralston‘s Sylvia Lewis, who looks as though she belongs in a beautiful art nouveau print. She seems as if she’s from another rarefied era. David, despite being an all around swell fellow, perishes. Obviously the idea was to show the consequences of war and not just the exciting air fights. We’re sad when David dies, but we’d probably be more devastated if Jack did. He’s the type of person we’ve been taught our country should be filled with. The ambitious, not wealthy whose drive was to rise up in class and build up the country as they innovated in their modernity and populated and rebuilt the United States. Jack’s living not only gives us hope for the character’s future in the film, but also gives us hope for a country rebuilding after war.

Rogers & Bow Couple Shot from Wings


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The Actors: Rare Films Of Clara Bow Volume 3

We finished watching The Actors: Rare Films Of Clara Bow Volume 3 last night. Kid Boots was a cute Eddie Cantor vehicle. Clara Bow was Cantor’s character’s love interest. They made for a pairing. They actually had chemistry. She brought a breezy, natural quality to a simple role that would have been forgettable except for her. Cantor was funny with the faces and some mild slapstick, but the talkies unfettered his voice, and the marriage of his sound with his image showed how his star power vaulted him out of vaudeville. I never mind hearing any of his jokes that were hoary years before he said them. Maybe Boardwalk Empire will inspire an Eddie Cantor revival.

His silent is a stronger picture than The Saturday Night Kid talkie on the same disc, which we watched the other night.  The latter is a curiosity for containing Bow’s speaking voice and featuring three actresses at different stages of their careers–sweet Bow looking a little matronly-but-hot near the end of hers, Jean Arthur whose career wouldn’t pick up speed until the following decade when she hit her mid-to-late thirties, and soon to be a hit Jean Harlow in a bit role in a couple of scenes, including a rooftop party scene where she gets an edit that assures she does not upstage the leading ladies. The film is another adaptation of the play Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em. The first featured Louise Brooks. The second is directed by her ex.

An extra stuck on the disc got to me. There’s an excerpt from Paramount on Parade. Clara Bow sings I’m True to the Navy Now. She looks and sounds great, so the snippet teases of what might have been if Paramount and life had treated her better.  She does look up at times, but she is making flirtatious eye gestures, so she might not be showing microphone fear, and her choreography appears to be designed to diminish blocking worries. Whenever she sings, she stays in one spot and sways and undulates her arms. When she marches or fully dances, her naval chorus takes over the vocals. When the seamen lift her up at the end, I got teary seeing the screen queen looking happy and getting feted as she should have. She has such an innocence onscreen, and that makes me both sad and mad that these scenes may read differently to snarky modern audiences familiar with the false smear against her.

Some kind soul has uploaded a VHS transfer copy of her performance to YouTube. You’ll find it below.