classics

Remembering Robert Osborne

Beth Ann Gallagher, Karie Bible, Annie Coulter, and Deborah Rush with Robert Osborne at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Late Monday morning I was crying. A quick look at Twitter let me know something I hoped wouldn’t happen yet had. TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne had died. He’d been on extended medical leave, so I knew he wasn’t well, that he must have been seriously ill to stay away from the network and the job that meant so much to him. He was the rare person who created his own career around what he loved, film. Since he was the even rarer public person who kept his personal life private, fans didn’t know more about his condition than that. I wished like many he’d rebound.

I’m not the sort of person who jumps on the celebrity mourning bandwagon. I don’t write about someone’s passing simply to get blog hits. When I feel the loss of someone like Robert, and I’m going to be presumptuous and call him by his first name since he’s been in my living room many times, I really feel it. Chief among his many gifts was being able to connect and engage with an audience. He made me feel like he was excited to share what he knew and thought about a film because he cared–and he truly did. He wanted to pass on the knowledge and the joy of classic film. Whether you met him in person or watched him on TV, he gave you a personal experience.

I was lucky enough to meet Robert at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2007. He was there to accept an award from the festival for TCM for its contributions “to the preservation, restoration and exhibition of silent film.” He, also, introduced CAMILLE (1921). I didn’t approach him when I saw him in the Castro Theatre‘s auditorium. I don’t think he would’ve minded, but I try to be considerate of famous people’s moments of downtime. My friends and I made sure to go up to the theatre’s mezzanine for his book signing, and that’s the first and last time I met him.

Some of us bought his book, and some didn’t, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. He was friendly and chatted with all of us, and he quickly and happily said yes to a group picture. While we started posing for the picture,  I wanted to let him know how much I appreciated him and his work. I don’t remember what I said to him, but whatever I said and how I said it, he paused for a moment and tilted his head, and then he responded with something nice back. I’m sorry to be vague, but I remember the quality of the moment and my emotions more than the words used by either of us.

Robert exemplified generosity. He was a consummate gentleman to all who approached him. He left people feeling good after they interacted with him. He wasn’t only an ambassador for TCM or classic film. He was someone who radiated happiness at his good fortune at being able to live the life he wanted, and he shared that happiness by making himself available until he wasn’t able to anymore.

Thank you, Robert, for giving more than you took, for being an educator and an inspiration, and for being you. You leave behind a rich legacy.

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The Road to TCMFF 2017: My Wish List

Since only a portion of the TCM Classic Film Festival offerings has been revealed, I’m going to fantasize about what else the festival programmers could schedule. In making my ideal list, I’ll pretend rights or physical print restrictions don’t exist, and I’ll stick to this year’s theme of MAKE ‘EM LAUGH: COMEDY IN THE MOVIES. I’m sure some of the programs and films I’d like to see at the festival will surprise you!

SPEEDY showing Harold Llloyd and Ann Christy at Coney Island

Harold Lloyd and Ann Christy in SPEEDY (1928)

Long-term readers and Twitter followers know I’m a silent film buff, and I know the perfect gateway to introduce others to the medium is comedy. I have multiple suggestions in this category. Harold Lloyd will be shown, but due to his granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd‘s activism in preserving and promoting his work, his work screening at the fest is usually likely. I’m a fan, so I don’t object. I’d like more silents at the festival!

Alice Howell in Cinderella Cinders

Alice Howell in CINDERELLA CINDERS (1920)

I’d love TCM to put together a program of silent film comediennes’ shorts. That way the audience could get exposure to or reacquaint themselves with multiple women stars from that era. There have been recent restorations, including some recently screened on the network, that could help fill the bill. Gloria Swanson, Louise Fazenda, Mabel Normand, Bebe Daniels, Flora Finch, Carole Lombard, Alice Howell, Marie Dressler, and Elsa Lanchester are all comediennes with existing silent shorts. If looking for a longer bill, shorts could be paired with Constance Talmadge‘s hour-long, recently found and restored comedy GOOD REFERENCES (1920).

Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers in GET YOUR MAN

Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers in GET YOUR MAN (1927)

Clara Bow‘s GET YOUR MAN (1927) provides the perfect excuse for a spotlight on the jazziest silent film comedienne. More exposure for Bow, especially with an introduction by her biographer David Stenn, will spotlight why America’s former favorite redhead deserves to be remembered as a talented comedienne whose onscreen naturalism belied self-aware technique. Discussion of how an incomplete film was reconstructed by the Library of Congress using “still photographs and inter-titles from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to fill in the narrative gaps” would be a mini-course in film preservation. If the program needs filling out because GET YOUR MAN is fifty-seven minutes long, short materials like the fragment of RED HAIR (1928) can be screened.

ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd Laughing in Bed

ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd

I’m divided whether I want a program of comedy duo shorts or one featuring duos whatever the length of their films. Shorts duos I’d be delighted to watch at TCMFF included Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts, Todd and Patsy Kelly, Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle, and Laurel and Hardy. If the fest highlights comedic duos’ best moments even from longer fare, I’d want to see added Marie Dressler and Polly Moran, Abbott and Costello, and Wheeler and Woolsey. I’m sure including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby along with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would make even more fans happy!

Moonstruck Moon over Bridge Shot

MOONSTRUCK (1987)

With Norman Jewison already in attendance for the fiftieth anniversary of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), I hope another one of his films celebrating its thirtieth anniversary gets snuck onto the schedule–MOONSTRUCK (1987). It’s laugh out loud funny in an idiosyncratic way, and it celebrates life and the mistakes that make it interesting with no cynicism. It, also, captures an old New York City that’s been disappearing via gentrification, displacement, and the passing of the older generations.

Now that you’ve read my picks, what films or programs would you like to see at TCMFF?

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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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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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CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon: The Time Bebe Daniels Couldn’t Get Out of a Speeding Ticket

 

It reads like a publicity stunt out of the movie Bombshell. Silent film sweetheart Bebe Daniels was ticketed for speeding, tried, convicted, sentenced to jail, and forced to serve time. Rather than being planned like the stunts in that movie, Bebe did like to speed, and she had gotten caught. Her press agent helped her spin a potentially career damaging moment into one that titillated the public. They were not yet weary of or suspicious of Hollywood stars, and speeding seemed like an offense that anyone could get caught committing. Film fans relished each moment of the case as a chance to gossip about a beloved star. Bebe provided them plenty to dish about.

Jack Dempsey Portrait

Let’s back up to January 1921 when she was ticketed. Bebe was behind the wheels of her Marmon Roadster, a car favored by those other fast-livers Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Bebe was hurtling down Route 101 to San Diego with her mother Phyllis Daniels, and they were accompanied by “a well-known Los Angeles pugilist.” At least once source cites him as boxer Marty Farrell, but Bebe herself wrote he was her beau Jack Dempsey. Since Bebe was 19 years-old at this point, her pairing with Jack, six years her senior, wasn’t likely to be controversial, and he was single. He had not yet married actress Estelle Taylor. His identity might have been kept out of the papers as a professional courtesy.

Bebe and Ben

When her car was spotted by motorcycle cop Vernon “Shorty” Myers, Bebe had left Los Angeles County, and she was driving through Orange County in the Santa Ana area. The speed limit along that stretch of the freeway was 35. Bebe would be quoted in the press as driving 56.25 MPH, but in the book Bebe and Ben, she bragged in a later personal account that she was driving 72 MPH. After being issued the ticket, she was warned, “You know we put people in jail for going this fast.” Bebe didn’t believe that would happen to her. She was famous and had connections.

What county she sped in mattered. Her Uncle Jack “was an important newspaper man and ‘in’ very well with the Los Angeles police department.” He had her previous parking tickets taken care of, but this time she had sped in the wrong county. He was powerless in Orange County. There a “notorious anti-speeding crusader” ruled.  Judge John Belshazzar Cox “was a barber, not a lawyer, and was a bicyclist, not an auto driver.” He had little sympathy for speeders. He fined anyone going over 35 MPH and put in jail anyone speeding over 50 MPH. Worse for Bebe, he courted media attention normally. Trying a movie star would give him even more.

She Couldn't Help It Newspaper ad

Her first hearing disappointed the public. Only her lawyer W.I. Gilbert attended and pled her case.  Judge Cox could not be swayed to dismiss her ticket. He gave Bebe the courtesy of a delayed trial, she was finishing her film She Couldn’t Help It, so the trial was set for March. Her lawyer requested a trial by jury, betting Bebe stood a better chance of defeating her ticket that way. In the interim, she finished her film and worked the press harder than a girl gunner. She made a public appearance at a benefit in Fullerton. Wearing a dress called “revealing” and “scanty,” she sang a tune called the The Judge Cox Blues. Her performance bouquets included one from him! “Days before the trial, her publicity agent made sure all the Orange County theaters premiered her latest film.”

The publicity likely sold more movie tickets, and it resulted in an estimated crowd of 1,500 to gawp at the fashionably turned out star at the courthouse, but her antics and film weren’t that influential over the jury and Judge Cox. “The jurors were all elderly men–mostly retired ranchers and a real estate agent.” They did not believe Bebe’s excuse that she was racing her car to be repaired at a San Juan Capistrano garage. The jury deliberated for about seven minutes before returning with a guilty verdict. The Judge, who exchanged smiles with Bebe throughout the trial, wasn’t swayed either. He would not be vamped. Bebe expected a warning and a fine. He sentenced her to ten days in jail! She became the first woman convicted of speeding in Orange County.

Bebe Daniels in Jail

Bebe was told to report to jail on April 16. This second delay was work-related as well. It allowed her to finish her scenes in The Affairs of Anatol. Since she had been convicted of a misdemeanor, she was allowed privileges that other inmates were not. Her mother was given permission to accompany and stay with her daughter. Bebe could wear her own clothes, bring personal belongings, and decorate her cell. Local furniture stores competed to furnish her cell, and area restaurants vied to be the one to provide her meals for free. Bebe being Bebe chose the best of each to supply her.  When the pair arrived, her cell looked more like a fine room, “furnished with wall to wall carpet, chintz curtains,” “twin beds with covers to match the curtains,” and “even bedside tables and lamps.”

Bebe Daniels Jail Cell

The judge greeted her with a bouquet in front of the press and escorted her to her cell. While Bebe thought he acted like a “hotel manager” when he wished her a comfortable stay, she very much felt her loss of freedom. She remembered the sound of the “locks being turned and the iron gates clanking behind” them for the rest of her life. Despite all the comforts she had, she was locked in one room that she could not leave except for set times. She had to find ways to distract herself so she did not pace her cell. Meals, reading, exercise, Mom, her Victrola records, and a who’s who of movie star visitors provided her main distractions. She tried not to look at the clock.

Bebe Daniels Serenade

The jail was overwhelmed at hosting a popular celebrity. Locals left her gifts ranging from chocolates to kittens. The sixty-three “other female inmates, accused of such crimes as bootlegging, forgery, drunkenness, drug-dealing and bigamy, vied for her attention.” A woman only identified as Sadie, convicted of bootlegging, won the privilege of cleaning Bebe’s room daily. Her jailer helped her screen visitors. No one was approved to see her until Bebe saw his or her visitor’s card. One day Abe Lyman appeared outside her windows with his orchestra. They drove down from the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles to serenade her with Rose Room Tango, her favorite tango song she used to dance to with Rudolf Valentino. The group played for her all afternoon. Her jailer confessed he was exhausted by the end of her stay. The jail had never been so busy.

Bebe Daniels Released from Jail

Due to Bebe’s good behavior, her sentence was ended one day early. Judge Cox returned for her departure and gave her yet another bouquet, this time roses. He had invited the press and insisted that Bebe pose with him for photographs as he presented her the flowers. Their farewell was widely circulated by the papers as he had intended. Bebe never saw him again. Her jail time had curtailed her desire to speed–at least in real life.

The Speed Girl Poster

Her next picture with Realart was inspired by her experience. It was called The Speed Girl. In this romantic comedy, she played a heroine arrested for speeding. Like Bebe, her character ended up in jail. Unlike Bebe, a love triangle with a naval officer and millionaire complicated the plot. The film was released into theatres in the fall of 1921. Its advertising copy read, “Here is a six cylinder hundred and twenty fun powered and record-breaking comedy with Bebe at the wheel. The brakes are off. Slip her into high. Now step on it!” While it does not sound like the strongest picture (It’s presumed lost), the public positively responded to Bebe’s attempt to move on from what could have been a scandal. Her career survived into the sound era before segueing into radio and TV.

Sources:

1. Allgood, Jill. Bebe and Ben. London: R. Hale, 1975. Print.

2. “Bebe Daniels: The Orange County ‘Speed Girl.'” Orange County Sheriff’s Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

3. Rasmussen, Cecilia. “A Celebrity Tossed in the Slammer? That’s Old News.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 May 2007. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

4. Mott, Patrick. “Film Star Nabbed in Orange County.” Orange Coast Magazine Apr. 1985: 170-71. Print.

5. Slater, Marilyn. “Bebe Daniel – The Speed Girl.” Looking for Mabel Normand. Marilyn Slater, 1 Aug. 2009. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

 

This post is an entry in the CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon. Click on the banner below to read more posts about yesteryear’s favorite and unjustly forgotten performers by a great roundup of dedicated classic and silent film bloggers!

CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon 2014

 

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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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