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Happy Easter!

Ann Miller Easter Top Hat 1946

Easter greetings from Spellbound HQ! I hope yours was lovely. For a last moment of celebratory fun, here’s Easter Parade star Ann Miller wearing a truly unique variation of the Easter bonnet. Inside her floral, hinged top hat sits a real, living rabbit. Miller and rabbit look nonplussed, and the actress does her best to make the look chic.

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The Baby Vamp versus the Avenging Angel: The Headliners behind CHICAGO (1927)

In honor of the Toronto Silent Film Festival screening CHICAGO (1927) this afternoon, here are my notes on the film that appear in their program.

Fox Theatre's CHICAGO Advertisement Cropped

A newspaper photographer poses a pretty flapper with platinum curls wearing not much more than a peignoir over a man’s lifeless body. Don’t worry. He’s not really dead. He’s playing her real victim, who’s lying cold elsewhere. Welcome to CHICAGO where a girl gunner gets priority in print over her victim! She was the one who was going to sell papers, and she did. In the movie, her name is Roxie Hart, but in real life her name was Beulah Annan, and she would take her place on “Murderess Row” where she awaited trial and attempted to maximize her beauty and newfound fame into an acquittal. Reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins covered Annan’s case. If Annan was an angel of death, then Watkins wanted to be an avenging angel with her words as her weapon.

Watkins didn’t start out wanting to be a reporter. She intended to live a quiet academic life of language and religious studies, but she changed her mind after her short stories earned her a place in George Pierce Baker‘s prestigious playwriting workshop. Baker, a mentor of Eugene O’Neill, encouraged Watkins to go out and experience life for her work. Suddenly her purpose crystallized for her; she felt called to engage evil, and she’d do it through her writing. Like O’Neill, she became a reporter, and she chose to work in Chicago since she saw it as a hotbed of sin, and she applied to the CHICAGO TRIBUNE because it was “a real hanging paper—out for conviction always.”

Watkins was sure Annan was guilty. She had shot her lover in the back after drinking two quarts of wine with him, so her defense of preventing dishonor didn’t seem believable. Watkins wrote biting and acerbic pieces mocking Annan and the attitudes that might free her. Annan would be audacious enough to claim to be pregnant, but cynical Watkins feared Annan’s being a woman was enough to avoid conviction. Juries were only composed of men, who held Victorian views of women. As a youthful and beautiful woman, Annan might walk away from her crime. The prosecutor entreated the jury not “to let another pretty woman go out and say ‘I got away with it!’” Since Annan and Hart received the same verdict, you’ll have to watch them film to find out what it was!

Watkins covered crime for six months. Her last case was the Bobby Franks murder. She interviewed Leopold and Loeb and provided pre-trial coverage of the pair. She suddenly switched to movie reviews. She may have burnt out on covering murders, but she definitely was biding time until she could reunite with Baker to work on a play she had started, one ultimately called CHICAGO. Watkins distanced herself from her newspaper work, and no mention of it was made to promote her play. Her play was a hit, and when the offer came in to adapt it for the screen, her services were declined. She wrote other plays and eventually screenplays, including LIBELED LADY (1936).

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Win BEHIND THE DOOR (1919) on Blu-ray/DVD from Flicker Alley!

As promised, here are the details on the Flicker Alley contest this blog is participating in. You’re getting the chance to win a brand new dual-format edition Blu-ray and DVD. Flicker Alley and a group of amazing sites for fans of silent and classic film are proud to bring you this giveaway for BEHIND THE DOOR (1919).

Behind the Door Blu-ray DVD Cover

I missed the movie when it screened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2016, so here’s more on the film and set from the Flicker Alley press release:

Legendary producer Thomas H. Ince and director Irvin V. Willat made this—͞the most outspoken of all the vengeance films according to film historian Kevin Brownlow—during the period of World War I-inspired American patriotism.

Hobart Bosworth stars as Oscar Krug, a working-class American, who is persecuted for his German ancestry after war is declared. Driven by patriotism, Krug enlists and goes to sea. However, tragedy strikes when his wife (Jane Novak) sneaks aboard his ship and is captured following a German U-boat attack. Krug’s single-minded quest for vengeance against the sadistic German submarine commander (played with villainous fervor by Wallace Beery) leads to the film’s shocking and brutal climax.

This newly restored edition represents the most complete version of the film available since 1919, thanks to the collaboration of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Library of Congress, and Gosfilmofond of Russia.

Sourced from the only two known remaining prints and referencing a copy of Willat’s original continuity script, this edition recreates the original color tinting scheme and features a new score composed and performed by Stephen Horne. Flicker Alley is honored to present BEHIND THE DOOR on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time ever.

Bonus Materials Include:

  • Original Russian version of BEHIND THE DOOR: The re-edited and re-titled version of the film that was distributed in Russia, with musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne.
  • Original Production Outtakes: Featuring music composed and performed by Stephen Horne.
  • RESTORING IRVIN WILLAT’S BEHIND THE DOOR: An inside look at the restoration process with the restoration team.
  • KEVIN BROWNLOW, REMEMBERING IRVIN WILLAT: Directed by Patrick Stanbury, an in-depth interview with renowned historian and honorary Academy Award® winner Kevin Brownlow on the career of director Irvin Willat.
  • Slideshow Gallery: Original lobby cards, production stills, and promotional material.
  • 12-page Booklet: Featuring rare photographs and essays by film historian Jay Weissburg, film restorer Robert Byrne, and composer Stephen Horne.

The set’s official release date is April 4, 2017. Readers of this blog who pre-order now using this link receive a special sale price of $29.95 for a limited time!

Here’s the film’s trailer:

Giveaway Hosted By: Flicker Alley

Co-Hosted By:

To enter, comment on this blog what is your favorite revenge movie or cinematic scene of revenge, and then submit your contact information to Flicker Alley using the form below.

Back in after the JAMAICA INN Premiere Party!

Spellbound by Movies on the Jamaica Inn Red Carpet

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 LloydTere 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!

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Special Screening Alert: JAMAICA INN (1939)

Maureen O'Hara in JAMAICA INN (1939)

Sharing a black and white picture of Maureen O’Hara after and not on St. Patrick’s day might seem like a mistake. The Irish-born actress’s trademark was her flame red hair crowning her head in glory in technicolor pictures, so sharing a color photo of her to celebrate the holiday would’ve been festive, but that’s not what I’m celebrating today.

Tonight I’m in Los Angeles to watch JAMAICA INN (1939) for the first time. I’ve been invited as press to cover a special screening organized by KCETLink, the Cohen Media Group, and BAFTA LA. It celebrates KCET and Link TV’s broadcast premiere of the movie, the last one Alfred Hitchcock shot in the United Kingdom.

As part of the festivities, there’ll be a red carpet, which I’ve been credentialed for, so that marks a first for this film writer and her blog. Celebrity guests include Norman Lloyd (SABOTUERSPELLBOUND, and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS) and Fred Willard (BEST IN SHOW and A Mighty Wind). There’ll be an exhibition of behind-the-scenes photographs of Hitchcock organized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesMargaret Herrick Library. All three of the director’s granddaughters will be in attendance, and they’ll participate in a panel discussion moderated by host of the COHEN FILM CLASSICS series Charles S. Cohen.

When I heard that last fact, I had to rearrange my schedule to attend. I’m not sure how often his granddaughters (Tere Carrubba, Katie Fiala and Mary Stone) are in one place, and I can’t wait to hear what they share about their grandfather. I’ll be sure to share what live experiences I can on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, and you’ll definitely find more in-depth coverage here at a later date.

For now enjoy this picture of O’Hara as JAMAICA INN’s Mary Yellen. Even after a sub-par screen test, its male lead and producer Charles Laughton insisted she be cast as his co-star. He was bewitched by her eyes, and it’s easy to see why.

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Things You Find When You Live in a Former Movie Theatre

Living in a former movie theatre, it was the architecture of the place that connected my home to its former function–until this week. This week I went up into my attic, the former projection booth, to see how its roof has been holding up under the recent barrage of rain. My landlord was too good at clearing away the materials associated with movie exhibition. Most of the items in my attic were from recent tenants who used it as a dumping ground. I happened to notice a plastic shopping bag that hadn’t caught my eye before, and I picked it up to see what was inside. I found film!

As you can see above, the film isn’t in great shape. I stuck my nose in the bag to sniff. I was looking for a vinegar odor. That’s what decaying nitrate film stinks like. No such luck or peril! Touching the film, it felt like plastic. It must be safety stock. You can see the pieces vary in length, but all are short, and some have masking tape notations, which state the names of the movies they were once attached to. I had found mostly film leaders, the heads and ends of film used to thread movies into projectors.

I sorted through all the pieces to see if any contained images of interest. Most did not. I found some pieces with their titles imprinted on their frames, and I found three fragments of one theatre-specific film. I’ve included pictures of the ones that caught my attention the most in this post.

Two things I love about the above film leader–my home started as a silent movie theatre, so it’s fun to find a piece labelled sound, and the stencil font used is striking and vintage.

A lot of the film leaders are from sixties films, like this one for DEVIL’S ANGELS (1967), a Roger Corman production that starred actor and film director John Cassavetes.

NIGHTMARE IN WAX (1969) was a low budget horror movie that revisited the mad man populating his wax museum with stolen bodies plot.

Long-term readers of this blog know I am a Judy Holliday fan. I was smiling almost as big as Gladys Glover when she sees her first billboard when I found part of THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC (1956) in my hands!

The above is my favorite! I’m guessing it is the oldest I found since it touts a Wednesday prize night, and it sports an Art Deco motif under the text. I’m going to take a closer look at it for dating. A visit to my town’s museum might help me find out what years the theatre ran their promotion. I’ve been meaning to go anyway!

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Evolution of a Look: THE RED SHOES (1948) vs LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (1982)

Red Shoes Moira Shearer'S Eye Make-up

Diane Lane's Eye Make-up in The Fabulous Stains

THE JAPAN TIMES published a good article on how mainstream cinema virtually ignored punk. Those kind of pieces always prompt someone to name films missed. This time that someone was I! I noticed a lack of female-centric films on the list.

I would’ve added proto-riot grrrl flicks TIMES SQUARE (1980) and LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (1982). They’re important works in the punk screen canon for females, even if written and directed by men. Perhaps being overlooked gives them greater cult status by keeping them films you have to be in the know to seek out. They’re treasured by those who find them when needed.

Picturing teenaged Diane Lane‘s makeup in THE FABULOUS STAINS–the bleached streaks in her hair giving her a “skunk” look and the dramatic eye make-up, I thought how arty punk looks evolve from other influences, sometimes surprising. In this specific case, I focused on the make-up of a classic film, THE RED SHOES (1948).

I don’t have printed proof Lane’s makeup artists were inspired by Moira Shearer’s, but when you juxtapose the two images together like above, similarities become apparent. The angled slash of eyeliner beneath both women’s eyes. Eyelashes that curl dramatically upward despite being thick and heavy with mascara. Lips painted red and in shades and shapes of each woman’s era.

There’s one major difference. The small flashes of red painted near each corner of Shearer’s eyes to increase the drama of a look designed for the stage become flames or wings on Lane. I like to think of them as wings. While Shearer’s dancer, torn between love or her career, loses everything, Lane’s musician dumps her lothario to ultimately triumph on her own talent.

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Happy New Year!

In the United States we’ve been lucky to have two New Year’s Days this year–Sunday the actual day and Monday the legally recognized holiday. Before both have been departed too long, I’d like the glamour of the holiday to linger a little longer, at least on the pages of my blog. New Year’s Eve I had fun on Instagram sharing fantasy party outfits worn by actresses of the silver screen. Let’s step into 2017 together by reveling in their fabulous.

Cyd Charisse

Here’s Cyd Charisse in a gorgeous floral print gown that pops in black and white, but leaves me curious to see it in color. Love the unusual decision to place the bold print on opera length gloves to match them exactly to the dress! They elevate the look into something memorable and high impact. Cyd’s glowing. She knows she looks great.

Susan Hayward in I Can Get It for You Wholesale

Susan Hayward looks fiercely glam in a publicity still for I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE (1951). She plays a ruthless fashion designer who claws her way up in the industry, from working for a copyist to her own haute couture label. Of course, her character’s wardrobe becomes more fashionable and breathtaking the higher she climbs.

Kay Francis Column Dress Richee

Model tall, Kay Francis had the frame and poise to wear clothes well and earned a reputation as a clotheshorse because costume designers knew she could wear a variety of styles and looked divine in evening wear. The photo’s photographer, Eugene Robert Richee, plays a visual joke. Francis wears a column dress in front of a literal column.

Evelyn Brent in Interference Butterfly Hostess Gown

The final outfit earns its spot by being a showstopper! Actress Evelyn Brent wears a sapphire blue and silver butterfly hostess gown in INTERFERENCE (1928). The dress’s detailing must have been even more impressive in person. Brilliants and crystals were sewn onto its surface to reflect light back at the camera and make her glow like a goddess.

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Toronto Silent Film Festival News!

Modified Toronto Silent Film Festival 2017 Poster
The Toronto Silent Film Festival is selling early bird passes for its 2017 edition. Get yours before they run or time out! While things didn’t work out for me to attend in 2016, I’ll be there at least in published word in April. I’m very excited to be contributing a piece about CHICAGO (1927) and Jazz Age murderesses to their programme book.

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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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