classic films

Why I created a Patreon account.

Carole Lombard Pencil Typing

I’ve been getting ambitious about Spellbound by Movies. There’s so much I want to do with my blog, I want to invest more time in it to promote classic and silent films. While I say Spellbound is sometimes irregularly, but always lovingly updated, I’d like to get on a regular schedule.

I have expansion ideas. There are more post types I’m itching to get to like more interviews, lists, or my usual obsessive reviews. The last can take my eight hours or more. I watch every film more than once if I can; I start with a rough draft I craft into final form; and I fact check every line I can, including describing action in the movie.

But my expansion ideas go beyond what’s on a page. Eventually I’d like my interviews not just to be conducted via email, but also done over Skype or in person. I want to record those conversations and take their recordings and turn them in a companion podcast called SIT A SPELL.

Even without adding on the cost of podcasting, there are costs associated with my blog. There are the annual hosting, URL, and WordPress redirect fees. While I’m comped some festival passes and books, I pay to attend other screenings and festivals, and I buy books to review and to build my film reference collection. Some of the festivals I attend require travel and/or hotels. All of these costs add up.

Here’s what pushed me over the edge into creating a Patreon account. In the last six months or so, I’ve been hit with two major and unexpected expenses–a large vet bill for a beloved and now passed away cat and losing my apartment to my landlords, who resumed personal occupancy. Having to incur moving costs and suddenly paying current San Francisco Bay area market rent was a double whammy.

I don’t want either to detract from my blogging or from me being able to travel to film festivals and bring you coverage. Between my blog, my Twitter account, and my Instagram, I try to share generously my movie experiences and love. There are two film festivals I’d like to attend in April. Schedule-wise I’d have to choose one or the other. Because of recent expenses, I think I should choose neither.

I blog because I love the process, love sharing my point of view, love lifting some of the movies out of obscurity, and love the community writing connects me to. I blog without pay, but isn’t it better to pay writers than not? Is it egocentric to consider if someone else values my work, then maybe they’d like to be a Patron to help it to continue? I’ve gotten some very nice unpaid opportunities, which I’m extremely grateful for. Maybe some day my blog will lead to a paying gig.

Whatever happens my blog will continue to freely accessible to all, but for the few who become Patrons, you have my sincerest thanks and gratitude. I am the sort who will pay it forward when she can. My most immediate way will be writing more regularly.

To check out my Patreon page, please click the banner below!

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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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Celebrating National Classic Movie Day with the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon

Monday, May 16 is National Classic Movie Day. As part of its festivities, I’ve joined other classic film bloggers in promoting the holiday with the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon. I’ve selected five classic movies that would entertain and sustain me on this miraculous deserted island having screening capabilities. I explain my choices below!

Les Vampires Irma Vep Poster in Le Cryptogramme Rouge

Les Vampires (1915-1916)

My first choice is Louis Feuillade‘s silent crime serial Les Vampires. I had been grabbed by its imagery when seeing stills in write-ups of Water Bearer Films‘ VHS release. It looked like Edward Gorey’s drawings come to life, but really the film was an influence on him as I previously wrote. When I finally saw it, the beginning episodes offered a lot of eye candy in costuming and sets, which feature multiple prints and textures. Artists, designers, and other creatives could be endlessly influenced by the movie. Then Musidora playing Irma Vep appeared in its third episode. I like to say she’s one of my two spirit actresses. She’s a modern, charismatic, and feminist presence. While her Irma is number two to the Grand Vampire, the head of her criminal organization, she survives a sequence of Grand Vampires to become the main, almost everlasting villain of the serial. She’s a contrast to the rather dull hero, reporter Philipe Guérande (Édouard Mathé). Les Vampires isn’t supernatural in the slightest. There’s nothing paranormal about the movie, but its action scenes offer plenty of the unusual like secret passageways, a poison ring, and a decapitated head. In its best moments, the film serves up memorable, surreal imagery. Whenever someone asks me if I like action movies, I have to say yes because of Les Vampires. It runs for about 7 hours, and I’ve watched it multiple times in multiple releases. It’s a movie that would continuously entertain me on an island.

Bell Book and Candle Gillian Holroyd Kim Novak and Pyewacket Spell Casting

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

This movie has been a favorite of mine since my girlhood. When I first saw it, I wanted Gillian Holroyd’s (Kim Novak) pre-pastel life. She had a fabulous wardrobe, a devoted and talkative cat, and an unusual life far from the middle class suburbia I was growing up in. I was fascinated by superstition and the supernatural, too. It’s very easy to be influenced the innate gothicism of New England. I’ve worn a lot of black and velvet in my life; I’ve had cats since I was four or five, and they’ve been loving and talkative companions; and I’ve lived in multiple places sometimes participating in and other times promoting the arts that fascinate me. Not a bad early influence then! As an adult, I can’t ignore the unintended warning message for women in the movie. There’s nothing wrong with being a less self-absorbed, selfish person, but a woman needs to know the difference between being matured by love and losing her sight of her core self. Also, Jimmy Stewart‘s love interest portrayal too often slips into doddering instead of simply square making Kim Novak have to simmer overtime to distract from that fact. I would have loved for Cary Grant to have landed the male lead role like he wanted. Moving beyond my casting quibble, Bell, Book and Candle has become a Christmas movie for me. I’m sure the association started because the film’s action starts on Christmas Eve. Gillian’s celebrating the holiday with her odd, sometimes infuriating, but in the end loving family. That actually sounds like a normal holiday for a lot of us! I watch the film at least annually, and with it on for background sound, I’ve trimmed my tree. I’d take this movie to the island to remind me of the girl I was and to help me celebrate Christmas.

Ginger Rogers We're in the Money Gold Diggers of 1933 Number

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

I knew one of my desert island movies had to be a Busby Berkeley! I looked through all my discs, and I picked Gold Diggers of 1933. Mervyn LeRoy is credited with directing the film, and Busby directed, staged, and choreographed its musical numbers. As an overall movie, from plot to musical scenes to performances, it’s one of the strongest in his filmography, and it’s one hell of a fun pre-code. It features some of my favorite performers like Warren WilliamJoan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, and Guy Kibbee. It has saucy and snappy dialogue as expected in a backstage movie focusing on four struggling showgirls in the 1930s. Take this line Aline MacMahon‘s character Trixie says,  “Excuse me while I fix up the old sex appeal. The way I feel this morning I’ll need a steam shovel.” It’s funny, yet acknowledges what work it is to be a woman and have to be appealing to men. The movie straddles the same line. It’s entertaining and offers amazing musical sequences like The Shadow Waltz with its neon-tubed violins, and at the same time the reality of the Depression is allowed moments of expression, like the literal show-stopping number starring Blondell, Remember My Forgotten Man. Gold Diggers of 1933 entertains, provides momentary distraction, and then addresses its contemporary audience’s troubles. It’s a paean to the scrappy American spirit. Despite our troubles, we can take the time to be flippant and clever and sing a song’s verse in Pig Latin. A great movie to help me endure my island time!

My Man Godfrey Carole Lombard William Powell Dishwashing Scene

My Man Godfrey (1936)

My other spirit actress is Carole Lombard, and she helped tip My Man Godfrey making my list over The Thin Man. When I used to have a LiveJournal, its slogan was “When things get tough, she envisions herself as Carole Lombard.” That’s because no matter what pratfall she took or what tricky moment she found herself in, her modernism, verve for life, and zaniness showed her character would overcome her troubles, at least in the comedies. Take a look at My Man Godfrey. She and her co-star William Powell had once been married, but their marriage didn’t work out, yet they remained adult about things and stayed friends. So much so that he insisted Carole be cast instead of Constance Bennett in this film. Their comfortability with each other lets them tap into their natural chemistry for their parts. She’s ditzy, good-hearted, nouveau riche heiress Irene Bullock, and he’s a blue blood living like a tramp while recovering from a broken heart. Of course, these two fall in love, while her nutty family (complete with parasitic gigolo) and her off-kilter approach to romance complicate matters. I can guarantee this screwball comedy will make me laugh, so into the deserted island kit it goes!
Regain Harvest Marcel Pagnol 1937 The Couple Surrounded by the Land

Regain / Harvest (1937)

There are so many romances depicted in Regain–the love of a place, the love of honest labor, the love of family, the love of friendship, and the love of a husband and wife. It’s the last of those loves that provides the catalyst for a dying village to be reborn. Gabriel Gabrio plays Panturle, whose village has only three inhabitants left, and not for long because the others are aged. All the younger people have left for the city seeking work divorced from their agricultural roots. Panturle needs to find a wife. He knows his home can be renewed by having a new founding family, and he is lonely. One night Orane Demazis‘ Arsule camps on his grounds with Fernandel‘s Urbain Gédémus. Arsule is the sort of woman who has given up hope, and she lets men use her in order to physically survive. Urbain, while better than some of the men she meets in the film, isn’t really much better. This is the rare film where comedian Fernandel plays an unlikable creep. Arsule wanders off from a sleeping Urbain and meets Panturle. The raggedy man cannot believe his good fortune at meeting this beautiful angel and begins to woo her. He sees her as everything he has ever wanted in life, and together they will become the best people they could be. The past doesn’t matter. What matters is who they are and what they do now. Regain is a film in which love and goodness transform and triumph. It’s a film that would sustain me spiritually if stranded on an island.

Five Movies on an Island Blogathon

To read more blogathon entries, click on its banner. Be surprised and entertained by other bloggers’ choices. Perhaps you’ll even find flicks to add to your to watch list!

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Spellbound by Movie’s #TCMFF Bésame Cosmetics Giveaway Contest!

When I submitted my media credential application to cover the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), I told them one of my coverage interests was how fans present themselves, how they dress or adorn themselves to show their love of classic movies and their eras and TCM. I’ve done a bit of that in advance by reporting on how its fans have a button obsession that led to a creative opportunity for an artist. I’m eager to see how many fans go beyond wearing buttons and tees by dressing and styling themselves after specific films, performers, or time periods. I’m going to look for glamour on the TCMFF red carpet and cinema sidewalks. I’m, also, going to contribute to it!

I spoke with one of my favorite vintage-era inspired brands, Bésame Cosmetics, and they have wonderfully agreed to be a sponsor of Spellbound by Movies’ first contest! They are giving me two dozen products to brighten the smiles and faces of lucky TCMFF attendees. Over the four days of the festival, I’ll be giving away six products a day. Before I get into the details of how to win the products, I want to tell you a little more about Bésame.

Gabriela Hernandez

It was founded by Gabriela Hernandez. As a girl, she was “fascinated by her grandmother’s sophisticated beauty routine.” Her passion for the arts and her entrepreneurial drive found inspiration in the memories of her grandmother’s make-up and beauty rituals. Gabriela created Bésame Cosmetics. Every element of the line from product colors to packaging was developed to bring back the romance of earlier eras to make today’s woman feel confident and glamorous. Products are carefully formulated for historical accuracy in color, modern performance, and safety standards that surpass Europe’s. The lipstick range reproduces colors from the 1920s through the 1960s. All items are designed and made in the United States. Bésame started as a handmade, boutique brand, best known among vintage enthusiasts. Its name has spread, and its popularity has increased. Its products now can be found in film and television productions, either worn by performers or dressing sets, and in Sephora.

Now that the backstory has been shared, here are the products to be won!

Besame Red Velvet Lipstick

Red Velvet

Red Velvet draws upon 1946 for its color inspiration. It’s a deeper, semi-matte shade appropriate for everyday wear. The lipstick surged in sales when Hayley Atwell revealed she wore it onscreen when portraying Agent Peggy Carter. It normally retails for $22. The ingredient list and further details can be found here. I have a dozen to give away.

Besame Vanilla Brightening Powder

Vanilla Brightening Powder

Brightening powder does what it says. It brightens the look of its wearer’s skin. Like the name implies, the powder is vanilla-scented. It has a yellow tint to reduce redness, and it works best on light to medium complexions. It normally retails for $22. The ingredient list and further details can be found here. I have a half-dozen to give away.

Besame French Vanilla Brightening Powder

French Vanilla Brightening Powder

The main difference between Vanilla Brightening powder and the French Vanilla version is shade. Both product are yellow-tinted to reduce redness, but French Vanilla works best on medium to dark skin. It normally retails for $22. The ingredient list and further details can be found here. I have a half-dozen to give away.

How Can You Win These Products?

  1. I’m going to give these items away, 6 per day, at TCMFF, so you must be an attendee.
  2. When I’m going to give away a product, I will tweet about it from my account. Either follow my account (@missbethg) or search for the hashtag #TCMFFGlamour.
  3. I may ask a trivia question or ask you to answer a question or simply tell you where you can find me.
  4. Only one prize per person. I want to make two dozen people happy.
  5. If you are a winner, please agree to let me share on social media and this blog that you are a winner. If possible, I would like to share a photo of you holding or wearing the product you win. Bésame has been generous in giving this product for free in exchange for spreading its brand name.
  6. If you are a winner, I’m going to ask you to share on your own social media that you won. Please @ tag Bésame on Twitter and/or on Instagram, mention my blog by name, and use the hashtag #TCMFFGlamour as part of your tweet or post.

For those not attending TCMFF, I hope to do another giveaway in the future that you will be eligible to enter. Thanks for your patience on this!

Good luck to those attending the fest! I’ll see you there or in the Twitterverse!

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TCM Classic Film Festival Media Credential Awarded to Spellbound!

TCM Classic Film Festival Logo Banner

This week has been like Christmas to me! I’ve been more excited than Ralphie discovering that last obsessively desired present–his official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle–hidden behind a desk. I was awarded my first ever media credential to cover the TCM Classic Film Festival! Attending has been a long-term goal. Expect to see pre-festival coverage, posts during the course of the event, interviews, reviews, live tweets, Instagram pics, and more. You may find my festival writings appearing outside of this blog. Friend and Hollywood historian Karie Bible runs Film Radar, a site focusing on revival and specialty films. She’s asked me about contributing additional festival content to Film Radar. This next month will be an exciting one as we head on the road to Los Angeles and to the TCM Classic Film Festival together!

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For the Love of Film Blogathon 2015

Kay Francis The Man Who Was Lost Publicity Shot

Yesterday I wanted some background noise TV, but when I turned it on an error message popped up on my screen, and that led me to contacting cable support, who worked me through a series of steps only to tell me that my receiver/DVR combo unit had died. I thought I had lost all my recordings. So many movies had been waiting to be watched! Most were recorded off of Turner Classic Movies, and many were pre-codes. Some starred Kay Francis, whose photo starts this post. I wish I could say I was as cool to the news as she looks above, but I wasn’t.

Sharing the news on social media brought out not only support from friends, but also their own stories of movies and old time radio show recordings lost when technology failed them. To put things in perspective, we were sad to lose quick and easy access to digital copies of entertainment to watch or listen to at our leisure. Even if some of the films or programs aired rarely or were harder to find, their originals or other copies existed. The chance remained to get more copies. Amassing them all again would be time-consuming, not impossible.

LOC Late Stage Nitrate Film Decomposition

From the Library of Congress: Late stage nitrate film decomposition.

Now imagine that there are no surviving original prints or copies. No theatre audience ever would have the chance to view these movies. There would be no moments of shared laughter, tears, gasps, or the rare applause. No solo viewer could binge-watch an era, genre, screenwriter, performer, director, or gender. Entire film careers could be lost or their evaluations impacted by missing important works, and cultural history would be written around these gaps or rely solely on aging firsthand accounts.

Let’s take a step back and say the prints that exist are damaged and deteriorating. Feel a little relief? There’s little chance anyone will get to enjoy these movies unless action is taken. There are those people whose skills and connections allow them to find, restore, preserve works, and grant others access to them. Most of us can promote film preservation through spreading the word of its urgency and by fundraising or making donations. The good news is there’s an opportunity to do any or all of these things!

Cupid In Quarantine Still 2

The For the Love of Film Blogathon: The Film Preservation Blogathon returns tomorrow! Starting Wednesday, May 13 and running through Sunday, May 17, dedicated film bloggers will be writing about science fiction movies to raise awareness and funds for film preservation. I’ll be among the participating bloggers. This year the event is co-hosted by Ferdy on Films, This Island Rod, and Wonders in the Dark. The goal is to raise $10,000 to restore, score, and stream silent film Cupid in Quarantine (1918), “a one-reel Strand Comedy that tells the story of a young couple conspiring to stay together by staging a smallpox outbreak.” I know you want to see that! Bonus: If the fundraiser is successful anyone will get to watch this romantic comedy for free. So check out the host blogs for post links, share the word, and contribute if you can!

 

For the Love of Film Preservation Blogathon 2015 Donate Button

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The Silent Film Fanatic TCM Film Festival Preview!

TCMCFF 2015 Steamboat Bill Jr Poster

Classic film circles are abuzz about March’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. This year’s theme is History According to Hollywood, and many movie buffs are guessing what film favorites fitting that theme will screen. While the festival is only about a month away, its full schedule has not been announced yet. I’ve gone over what titles have been released to create a silent film fanatic preview.

The Grim Game Harry Houdini Fight Still

Harry Houdini in The Grim Game from the Kevin Connolly Collection

Rumored as lost, the Harry Houdini vehicle The Grim Game (1919) is another silent film with a strange-but-true rescue story. A retired juggler named Larry Weeks bought a complete print of the film back in 1947 from the Harry Houdini estate. He had shown it a few times, and he had been unwilling to sell it to any inquirers. In 2014 film scholar and preservationist Rick Schmidlin got a tip that Weeks owned the movie and successfully negotiated for TCM its purchase. Schmidlin oversaw the restoration, and it will make its world premiere at the festival.

The Grim Game is notable for being one of Houdini’s few feature films. Houdini stars as Harvey Hanford, who gets framed for murder. As if the stakes of clearing his name were not high enough, he must rescue his kidnapped fiancée, too. Like a number of Douglas Fairbanks‘s a films were designed to demonstrate his athleticism, Houdini’s movie offers him plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills as an illusionist, escape artist, and stuntman. There’s a dramatic airplane sequence that draws on his reputation as an aviator. The film sounds like a fun popcorn entertainment offering us a glimpse of a major 20th century performer at a career high.

Rick Schmidlin will be a special guest at the screening, and composer Brane Živković will conduct his score for the film live.

Lois Weber's Suspense Split Screen Still

One program gives the rare chance to watch films hand-cranked through a projector just like audiences of yesteryear. It’s The Return of the Dream Machine: Hand-Cranked Films from 1902-1913. Showing movies in this manner relies on the projectionist’s ability to match his hand-cranking rhythm to the action depicted onscreen. If he cranks too fast, a sad scene can become a comedy, and if he cranks too slowly, a comedic scene plays at a dirge tempo. Hand-cranking is a test of hand-eye coordination and endurance.

For this screening, shorts in 35mm prints will be presented. Titles include a color-tinted version of Georges MélièsA Trip to the Moon (1902), the Edison Company’s narrative leap forward The Great Train Robbery (1903), D.W. Griffith’s A Corner in Wheat (1909), and Lois Weber’s split-screen thriller Suspense (1913).

Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Randy Haberkamp will be a special guest at the screening.

Steamboat Bill Jr.

Buster Keaton‘s Steamboat Bill Jr. has two world premiere aspects. The comedy underwent a restoration that’s never been screened publicly before, and composer Carl Davis will conduct his brand-new score live. I see both of these as added bonuses of a film that would have pulled crowds even without them. Silent comedy is often a gateway to silent film for the non-fan, so this is a great film to introduce or sway a classic movie fan to silents, and Buster remains a strong name brand to current silent film fanatics.

In Steamboat Bill Jr., Buster plays William Canfield Jr., the newly returned from college son of  a paddle-steamer captain. He’s not the big strapping lad his father hoped would help him crush his competitor. Worse, Bill falls in love with the competitor’s daughter. This Romeo and Juliet tale contains one of Buster best known stunts that’s among his most dangerous. Look for an in-joke about his iconic pork pie hat. Between the stunts and laughs, if you’re not on Team Buster when you start this film, you’ll likely be at its end.

Charlie Chaplin's Limelight Mirror Still

Technically Limelight (1952) is a talkie, but it will interest silent film fanatics because Charlie Chaplin produced, wrote, directed, composed its music, and stars in the movie.  It has a Buster Keaton cameo as well. Limelight is historic because it’s the only feature film both performed in. During the silent era, they appeared in a First National promotional short, Seeing Stars (1922). They played themselves at a celebrity banquet.

Chaplin intended Limelight to be his last picture. Even if it is not an autobiography, it was a highly personal film. He set it in 1914, the year of his film debut, and a time of change since that was right before World War I. He used to perform in music halls early in his career, so the London music hall settings of Limelight were familiar to him. Some suspect his alcoholic, downwardly mobile clown was based on his father, but Chaplin claimed actor Frank Tierney inspired the role. Whatever the truth, the character was a theatrical archetype. Everything about the film shows a man looking back at the past.

The movie is more bittersweet and hopeful than it may sound. It mixes drama and comedy, as does the best of Chaplin’s work. His character Calvero rescues a ballet dancer played by Claire Bloom from a suicide attempt. His old man nurses the girl back to health, and each finds a friend and confidante. They encourage each other to attempt a comeback. They take to the stage again, and they embrace life again.

Actor, producer, and author, Norman Lloyd, who appears in Limelight, will be a special guest at the screening.

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

Dark Journey Poster

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

Dark Journey Meet the Baron

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

Dark Journey 1930s Coat & Hat

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

Dark Journey Lupita

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

Dark Journey Cherry Orchard

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

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

Dark Journey Close-Up

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

Dark Journey

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

 

WWI Blogathon Banner of the Big Parade

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

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World War One in Classic Film Blogathon

Dark Journey

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

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

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

WWI Blogathon Banner of the Big Parade

 

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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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