Bette Davis

FEUD & the Costuming of Bette Davis, What I’ll be Watching for

Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis in FEUD Smoking

FEUD premieres tonight on FX, and like many classic film fans, I’m watching to see how legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are portrayed, and I’ll be paying particular attention to one area of costuming.

Susan Sarandon plays Davis. The latter actress, while capable of glamour and being beautiful onscreen, always favored her performances over the strictures of the star machine that led more wary or canny actresses to compromise on characterization in favor of not lowering beauty standards too far. Davis felt no restriction. She wanted her Mildred Rogers in OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934) to look as sickly as possible when the script called for that, and she pushed for her WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) costume to be more extreme than as originally designed.

Sarandon has shown a willingness to deglam onscreen for the right roles, but offscreen she’s been a poster girl for not looking her age or letting it determine whether she should be sexy on the red carpet and how. A favorite outfit of hers to wear to movie launches, so much so it’s almost a uniform, is a suit with no shirt worn underneath its jacket, often leaving a pretty bra visible for all to see. If her bra isn’t in view, its push-up effects leave no doubt of its presence.

I’m finding it ironic that an actress sartorially famous for her bras and gravity defying chest is playing one who eschewed underwire bras, despite being as generously endowed. As the recent Orry-Kelly documentary, WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED (2015) revealed Davis was convinced wearing underwire caused breast cancer. The costume designer was left having to camouflage that the leading lady was undersupported or braless by “using foulards, pockets, buttons, and other visual tricks.”

So while I’m watching FEUD, I’m going to be looking at Sarandon’s silhouette to see if series costume supervisor Katie Saunders incorporated this particular quirk when approving designs. Like Davis knew, it’s paying attention to the little details that help a performer build and inhabit a character.

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The Road to TCMFF 2017: Early Announced Films, How Classic Are They?

TCMFF 2017 Banner

When the TCM Classic Film Festival announced a smidgen of its schedule, fans poured over the listings to see what movies were included and did they fit their definition of classic. TCM fans are vocal on social media praising the network when pleased and passionately-yet-constructively criticizing it whenever they think their definition of classic has been strayed from. From what’s been released, I see a good mix sure to make a lot of fans happy. When I was considering whether to attend this year, I definitely felt the pull of the schedule. Let’s review what’s being offered together!

Since so many TCM film fans want to see classic era (i.e. studio era) movies, here’s how the offerings break down by time period. Of the thirty-two films or programs announced so far, twenty-four of them were made before 1970. Seven are from the 1970s or later.

The silent era (1910s-1920s) has two offerings:

The 1930s has eight offerings, half of which are pre-codes:

The 1940s have five offerings:

The 1950s have six offerings:

The 1960s have four offerings:

 

The 1970s have six offerings:

The 1980s have no offerings.

The 1990s have one offering:

While the bulk of the schedule fulfills the most traditional and constrictive definition classic film, the 1970s, the post-studio era, is very strongly represented. Only the 1930s has more selections; the 1950s ties with the 1970s. Obviously later made films are more likely to have guests that can attend the festival, but I don’t see that as the single motivation for programmers to include such movies. If we go by a broader definition of classic, something that is of its time yet timeless in its ability to be enjoyed repeatedly now and for years to come, then almost all the 1970s programming can be defined as classic. THE LANDLORD sticks out as rediscovery championing.

The post featuring my TCMFF picks will go live soon! In the meantime, feel free to comment on the 2017 schedule’s classic credentials.

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

Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn Posing in front of a Dictionary

 

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

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

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

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

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For the Love of Film Blogathon: Alfred Hitchcock & His Terriers

Alfred Hitchcock’s visage has been compared to the bulldog’s, but he preferred terriers. He was a fancier and owner of Sealyham Terriers.  The Sealyham faces extinction today and has been called “rarer than a tiger,” but it was once favored by royalty, authors, and Hollywood stars. Princess Margaret, Dorothy Parker, Maurice Sendak, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, and Tallulah Bankhead were all fellow Sealyham owners and some were photographed with their beloved pets.

Gary Cooper & His SealyhamCary Grant & Sealyham

Bankhead’s was actually a gift from Hitchcock when they filmed Lifeboat together, and she named him Hitchcock. He wanted to recognize what a good sport she was to keep filming despite developing pneumonia. I haven’t read of him ever giving another Sealyham to one of his stars, so he truly must have been impressed.

The Sealyham was developed as a working dog in the mid to late 18th century Wales, and it was used to hunt badgers and other unwanted vermin, but it could be devoted family dog. “Although the Sealyham might have the wit and courage to hold a badger at bay, he was also a very charming fellow to have at dinner.” Harry Parsons, the founder of the Working Sealyham Terrier Club, said, “They make great companions, and the way they bond with their owners is almost magical.” Numerous portraits of Hitchcock and his Sealyhams illustrate his love for them and their charm.

Alfred Hitchcock, Alma, & Pat walking their dogs in 1939

Alfred & Pat Hitchcock & Alma Reville with Begging Sealyham Terrier

Alfred Hitchcock & Dogs

Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Patricia Hitchcock, Joan Harrison, Spaniel, & Sealyham Hitchcock was recorded as having at least four Sealyhams–Mr. Jenkins (a suitably Welsh name!), Geoffrey, Stanley, and Sarah. They not only appear in the above pictures, but also Hitchcock couldn’t resist having a pair of them join him in one of his famous film cameos. Stanley, Geoffrey, and Hitchcock “exit downtown San Francisco’s Davidson’s Pet Shop. . .as elegantly-dressed blonde Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) enters.” That wasn’t Stanley and Geoffrey’s last foray in the film industry. Hitchcock named his production company for Marnie after them (Geoffrey Stanley Inc.).

Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds Cameo

If you enjoyed my post, please consider donating to the For Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. All funds raised go to the National Film Preservation Foundation to enable them to stream The White Shadow, a silent film featuring the work of a very young Alfred Hitchcock. This will allow people the world over access to a film that was long considered lost, and it helps share and preserve our international film heritage. To donate, please click on the banner below.

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The Bore Who Came To Dinner

The Man Who Came to Dinner Poster

My husband and I went on a holiday movie spree between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. In order to make the roster, the film had to be at least set during a holiday. It needn’t be a holiday classic. I kept putting off watching one of his selections, The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). I’d seen it before when I was much younger, and I wasn’t excited to watch the film again. To me the film should have been called The Bore Who Came to Dinner.

Monty Woolley plays the title character, Sheridan Whiteside. He’s a wit and a well-known radio personality. He milks his fame travelling the country giving lectures and enjoying the hospitality of the famous and/or rich. Basically, he’s a 1940s version of a media darling, save for the darling part. He’s really a holy terror who gives tongue lashings to those he perceives as beneath him or annoying, which would be most people. The few he spares are those rare folk as or more famous than himself. He sickeningly fawns over that small lot.

The plot starts with him visiting a small Ohio town to give a lecture. Before he does, a businessman and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley (Billie Burke and Grant Mitchell) are to host him at dinner. The husband wasn’t looking forward to the dinner, and it turns into a disaster even before it can happen. Whiteside slips on their icy front steps, promises to sue them for criminal negligence for a frightful sum even by today’s standards, and takes their home hostage as he recovers.

He’s accompanied by his personal secretary, Maggie Cutler (Bette Davis). She’s the film’s female romantic lead. The break in her schedule gives her a shot at romance. She gets to know a local reporter Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis). His writing skills go beyond the headline. He’s a budding playwright. Cutler comes to love him and his work, which she champions to an uninterested Whiteside.

It’s interesting to see Davis in the sort of working girl role that Joan Crawford tended to play. Cutler’s role needed someone softer than Crawford, and Davis plays her as the reasonable presence in the household. She’s intelligent, capabale, and underneath her professional shell–nice. Most of her wardrobe are practical and plain, appropriate for a personal secretary. There are no flashy clothes or expensive fabrics that an image conscious star would want.

Davis looks on the older age range of acceptability for the role. Her hairstyle while typical for their period tends to look a little aging and matronly by today’s standards. Her hairdo isn’t as unflattering as Norma Shearer’s in The Women.  Travis was slightly younger than Davis, and the camera registers a slightly greater age difference.

This stresses the relationship may be Cutler’s last shot at love. She prepares to leave Whiteside, who refuses to break in a new secretary. He meddles in her love life as well as with the children of his hosts. The film’s second half deals with his machinations, their results, and the fall-out. Since this is a holiday comedy, I don’t think it’s spoilery to say things eventually work-out, but I never buy into the redemption of Whiteside. It’s not completely the fault of the original source material.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart wrote the play version of The Man Who Came to Dinner as a tribute and a vehicle for their friend Alexander Woollcott. For the American public, he has the lustre of having been part of the Algonquin Round Table. Kaufman and Hart were inspired by a real-life incident in which Woollcott took over Hart’s home like Sheridan Whiteside takes over the Stanley’s. They knew how Woollcott could entertain and terrorize, and they wrote some sharp lines that reflect that fact.

The fault lies more with Monty Woolley’s performance. He positively revels in Whiteside’s nastiness too much. His white teeth flash beneath his mustache when he clearly enunciates each insult like the bared teeth of a nippy terrier. Whiteside is a man whose intellect and achievement lifted him up from where he started as a cub reporter. The character has a lot of hubris about that, but where lies his charm? I’m not claiming the character has to be softened, but one of the shades needed for the performance is missing. A man like Whiteside is only allowed to continue his bad behavior because he charms, he has to let us in on his side, make us conspirators.

Woolley never does that, so Whiteside’s redemptive moment falls flat. When he gets that figurative mirror held up to his face and is shown all the horrible things he has done, I never got the sense that he was sorry. It seemed more like he couldn’t think of himself of capable of being that base and had to act to compensate for his almost shattered self-image, especially since he reverts back to type at the film’s end. Mr. Stanley was right to grouse about the bore coming to his dinner!