comedy

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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Before They Were Stars: Audrey Hepburn’s Revue Days

Audrey Hepburn London Revue Costume
In Audrey Hepburn‘s third film, the British comedy LAUGHTER IN PARADISE (1951), she played the part of “Cigarette Girl” She was cute and memorable in a role that gave her more than one scene and multiple lines. Costuming treated her body as something to be made more stereotypically sexy, so they padded and pointed her chest.

In the above picture from her London revue days, she was starting to make a name for herself, but the costuming plan was corrective as well. The long legs are shown off, but her hips are made to look fuller by tacking on a partial skirt which in turn makes her waist look more nipped. Her bust line is obscured by an asymmetric neckline and shoulder, and her elegant “swan neck” is shortened by a ruffled collar.

Her gamine figure was not yet receiving the tailored looks best suited to it. Audrey’s impact on style and acceptable body types would come after better roles.

 

Thanks to Terence Pepper for allowing me to reblog his photo and the thoughts it inspired!

 

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Guest Appearance on First Time Watchers

Harold Lloyd Hanging from the Clock in Safety Last

I’d been keeping a secret for a little while, in case it fell through, but it happened! I made a guest appearance on First Time Watchers this week. It’s a movie podcast hosted by Tim Costa, Hermano DaSilva, and Walter Vinci. I want to disclose the last host is one of my cousins! Movie madness runs in my family.

The guys discuss films classic and new, and they have their own unique format. They decided to expand their coverage to include a three-part series on silent film. Dan from Geek Cast Radio started it off by reviewing The Phantom Carriage, and Fritzi Kramer from Movies, Silently talked about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

concluded the series with Harold Lloyd‘s Safety Last (1923). In addition, I got to speak about how I got into movies and silents in particular, my recent trip to the TCM Classic Film Festival, some of the other film festivals I’ve been lucky enough to attend (like The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Rome, New York’s Capitolfest), and a trailer that’s got me very excited to see its movie.

I’ve not been on the air in any form in a while, excluding my holiday wishes cameo on Attaboy Clarence‘s 2015 Christmas special, but I had a lot of fun. If you listen, let me know what you think of the show in the comments below!

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Book Review: The Ice Cream Blonde

The Ice Cream Blonde Book Cover Michelle Morgan Chicago Review Press Large

While Thelma Todd‘s death often overshadows her work, Michelle Morgan has written the biography the actress deserves. Any book about Thelma must mention her death and the mystery that surrounds it, but Morgan spends the majority of The Ice Cream Blonde discussing the slapstick comedienne’s life and career.

Thelma Todd and Charley Chase

Morgan researched her subject well. The book is filled with details whose sources are carefully listed in the notes and bibliography sections. She shows how a prim and proper New Englander originally intent on becoming a schoolteacher became “Hot Toddy” roughhousing with a veritable who’s who of silent and early talkie comedy. Her famous co-stars included the Marx BrothersCharley ChaseBuster Keaton, Harry LangdonJoe E. BrownWheeler and Woolsey, and Laurel and Hardy.

Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd in Asleep in the Feet (1933)

Producer Hal Roach sought to make a female comedy short duo as popular as his Laurel and Hardy pairing. He first paired Thelma with ZaSu Pitts, and when Pitts left his studio, he replaced her with Patsy Kelly. While the shorts’ detractors call them derivative and uninspired, Thelma and her co-stars draw laughs in their roles, and the films’ plots, while sometimes bizarre like The Tin Man, put slapstick into female realms, seemingly to offer a woman’s take on this comedy form despite being written and directed by men.

Buster Keaton and Thelma Todd in Speak Easily (1932)

Even though Thelma wanted a break-out role to lead to feature starring work, she was more concerned with expanding her talent and roles and securing her future than the fame associated with stardom. She was never too proud to not take a pratfall or to recognize and respect everyone working on-set. She knew the names of those working behind the scenes because she chatted with them about their families. As a consequence, she was beloved wherever she worked, at Roach’s or on loan.

Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly

Her generosity helped many a friend. When New York stage star Patsy Kelly wasn’t adapting to life on the West Coast or slapstick screen work, and her debts threatened to drown her, Thelma’s intervention prevented Patsy from returning east in defeat. When Patsy was fleeing California, Thelma became determined to save Patsy before the studio got word. Thelma hopped into her car and dragged Patsy off of her eastbound train. The two had an all-nighter, full of heart-to-hearts and advice. A lifelong friendship developed.

Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café

When her big break didn’t seem to be coming, Thelma’s practical side made her plan for her post-screen future by becoming a businesswoman. She partnered with former lover Roland West and his wife Jewel Carmen to open Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café. Initially Thelma was to provide her name and presence, while the Wests were to provide the financing and management, but Thelma became very hands on, learning to run most aspects of the business. She could be found hostessing and personally preparing food, and her presence attracted everyone from tourists to fellow film stars.

Roland West

Her business put her on the trajectory to tragedy. Soon after becoming partners with West, the two became romantically involved again, and Thelma moved into the café’s apartment in a room next to his, only separated by a sliding door. The pair’s relationship was volatile, and at least once resulted in physical violence. Her alleged mobster ex-husband Pat DiCicco had been physically abusive as well. The smart starlet was not so smart in her choice of men. The eatery’s success and perhaps secret on-site gambling of Hollywood stars attracted mob interest. Meanwhile Thelma started receiving anonymous blackmail threats in the mail. Whatever your theory about Thelma’s subsequent death in the café’s garage, these incidents provided possible motives for murder.

Newspaper Diagram of Thelma Todd's Death Scene

In dissecting the available evidence surrounding Thelma’s death and the subsequent inquests, Morgan carefully conveys which testimonies and pieces of evidence she finds credible and why. She reviews the theories relating to accidental death, suicide, and murder, and she favors one, but she doesn’t belittle those coming in with others. For instance, she asks if Thelma truly walked to the garage herself why was no mention made of the state of her hosiery? Thelma was wearing high-heeled sandals, and such a long walk in or not in non-protective footwear would have resulted in dirtiness and runs.

Thelma Todd's Shoes Worn at Death in 1935Don’t think Morgan’s fact-focused approached leads to a dry style, quite the contrary. While her style is non-sensationalistic, it is engaging and allows the personalities she describes to be experienced through her words, especially in the book’s concluding and haunting quote from the actress. Maybe Thelma truly had the last word. Always the planner, she had posted Christmas cards and presents early. Friends and family received them a few days after her death. Still trying to make others happy. Her true legacy.

Merry Christmas from Thelma Todd

Disclosure: I was provided a review copy by the book’s publisher, Chicago Review Press.

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Black Friday Treat: The Bargain of the Century (1933)

Thelma Todd Still from The Bargain of the Century (1933) sharpenned

Feeling Black Friday fatigue? Here’s a delightful Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts comedy teaming, The Bargain of the Century (1933), that pokes fun at battling for bargains for you! The duo’s slapstick antics bring humor to scenes best experienced secondhand. In their quest for a good deal, the women give and get bruises in a rough shopping crowd. Each lady does so in her own inherently idiosyncratic style. Thelma’s character is a scrapper, not afraid to get into the mêlée, and ZaSu’s character eventually gets a grabbing with her formerly timid, fluttering hands. Their shopping excursion ends up costing them more than they saved when they accidentally get a policeman (James P. Burtis) fired, whom they have to house and feed until they find him a new job. Of course, that task turns out not to be so easy! Watch the videos below to see how it all plays out.

 

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview, Part 2

SPEEDY (Paramount, 1928) Harold Lloyd, Ann Christie

Speedy (1928) Photo Courtesy of the Harold Lloyd Trust

Saturday morning’s program starts with the family-friendly Speedy (1928), and some parents likely will bring their tots for an outing to this screening. I love seeing kids getting their introduction to silents or enjoying a return trip to the festival. Comedies are a great gateway into silent film for all ages. In this slapstick feature, Harold Lloyd plays baseball obsessed Harold “Speedy” Swift, who can’t keep a job as well as he can keep up with his team. His being able to find a job every Monday after he’s lost one the previous week keeps dashing the marriage hopes of his honey, Jane Dillon (Ann Christy). While the younger generation discovers life’s tribulations anew, Speedy’s dad Pop Dillon (Bert Woodruff) moves more slowly. He’s the last horse-drawn streetcar driver in New York City, and a wheeler and dealer wants Pop’s track. Will big business push or buy him out? A son’s love for his father becomes an indefatigable force in a battle for a family’s future. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompanies the film.

Visages d'enfants Table Scene with Mother

Visages d’enfants (1925)

Visages d’enfants (1925), or Faces of Children, is another film that focuses on a family. It covers a theme that often appears at this festival–what makes a family. Son Jean Amsler (Jean Forest) is only a child, and he’s having a hard time coping with his mother’s passing. His father Pierre (Victor Vina) temporarily sends Jean away, and Pierre remarries during his son’s absence. Jean returns to a household changed once again. Not only does he get a Step-Mother (Jeanne Dutois played by Rachel Devirys), but also he gains a Step-Sister (Arlette portrayed by Arlette Peyran). He takes his resentment of Jeanne out on Arlette, and his actions escalate until they could cause a tragedy. Director Jacques Feyder‘s exploration of psychological family drama and childhood grief earned him critical acclaim, and it’s been called his best workStephen Horne accompanies the film.

Capra's The Donovan Affair (1929)

The Donovan Affair (1929)

Silent film purists might object to the The Donovan Affair (1929) being placed on the schedule. Technically it’s only a silent through circumstance. Director Frank Capra filmed the dark house mystery as a talkie. It was “his first ‘100% all-Dialogue Picture.’” “Its original soundtrack, recorded on transcription discs,” was lost. Ignore the pedants! The solutions to the challenges this screening presents are fun. Bruce Goldstein, director of programming at New York’s Film Forum, made it his mission to make screening the film possible. The original script was lost, but he found “half the dialogue in the archives of the now-defunct New York State Censorship Board.” He searched for actors with a feel for the era who could convincingly sound of it and become the voices of Capra’s onscreen cast. Goldstein’s actors became the Gower Gulch Players, and they helped him recreate the script further. They pieced together more of the movie’s dialogue through lipreading its actors. Pianist Steve Sterner created the film’s “new score.” This will be the troupe’s fourth public performance of The Donovan Affair. Frank Buxton is a guest performer.

Flesh and the Devil (1926)  Directed by Clarence Brown Shown: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert

Flesh and the Devil (1926)

Flesh and the Devil (1926) starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo likely will be a sold-out screening, so you should get the the Castro Theatre early for this film! A crowd will turn-out to see Garbo and Gilbert sizzle on the screen. Their character’s onscreen romance was paralleled by the actors’ offscreen one, and because Gilbert fell hard for his leading lady, he made sure she would shine in what was only her third American picture. Gilbert was the bigger, more established star of the two, and Irving Thalberg, “banked on his highest paid player to help define an unknown entity.” Gilbert’s help went much further than agreeing to stare with the mysterious new discovery and share equal billing. He was an experienced actor, and he was a screenwriter and an assistant director. While she had “It,” he had the knowledge of what worked in front of the camera. He asked for retakes of any scenes where Garbo could have shone better,  and he didn’t object to camera angles designed or requested to show off her beauty. Garbo was grateful for his help. “If he had not come into my life at this time, I should probably have come home to Sweden at once, my American career over.” While the behind-the-scenes history of the movie overshadows its conventional romantic melodramatic plot of a friendship torn apart by a woman’s love, its luminous stars and their multi-layered romances show the power silent film icons had to seem more than us watching them on the screen. They were bigger in size, the most beautiful, grander in lifestyle, fuller of feeling, and capable of great love.

From the silent film community’s murmurings after 2014’s Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pan (1922) will be the sleeper hit of the San Francisco festival. Descriptions of Knut Hamsun‘s book make it seem a straightforward tale. Two disparate strangers are pulled together by an “overwhelming attraction“. She is a wealthy, educated townswoman, and he is an ex-soldier turned hunter living in a forest with his dog. Despite their love, they don’t understand each other’s ways, and they seem fated not to be together. It’s the rendering of this story that makes it outstanding. Silent London wrote, “Lush, detailed photography, delicately tinted, with epigrammatic intertitles, and many a layer of mystery to uncover, this was a film of great beauty and unique oddity.” Pan was a success, but it was Harald Schwenzen‘s only directing credit. He’s like the debut novelist who retires after writing a masterpiece. See why the Film Noir Foundation said Pan “secured Schwenzen’s reputation in cinema history.” Guenter Buchwald accompanies the film.

There it is (1928), a Charley Bowers Silent Comedy

There It Is (1928)

More all ages comedy kicks off Sunday’s screenings! There’s an entire program devoted to the shorts of The Amazing Charley Bowers.  He was almost forgotten in his home country the United States until “Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films revived his oeuvre in 2010.” The shorts he restored are thought to be a portion of Bowers’ existing work. More may exist in archives. What a shame it would be for Bowers’ works to be lost by lack of interest! His films are surrealistic slapstick outings mixing live action with animation and often featuring “complex Rube Goldberg gadgets.” The best comedians make us look at the world or life in a new way while we laugh, and Bowers had that talent and a singular vision. Who else would make a film starring a kilt mad laddie investigating a mystery with a cockroach detective also clad in a kilt? No wonder Bowers was beloved by André Breton and the Surrealists. Featured shorts include A Wild Roomer (1926, 24 minutes), Now You Tell One (1926, 22 minutes), Many a Slip (1927, 12 minutes), and There It Is (1928, 17 minutes). Serge Bromberg accompanies the films.

Ménilmontant directed by Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926

Ménilmontant (1926)

Avant-Garde Paris showcases two films from 1920s Paris that illustrate the creative experimentation of the city, making it a beacon for artists.

Emak-Bakia (1927, 16 minutes) is a cinépoème by visual artist Man Ray. The title is “Basque for Leave me alone.How that relates to the film is up to individual interpretation. After the title and credits, the first image seen is a man with his camera with human eye on its side, so everything that follows could be a film dreamed up by a crazed cinematographer. Light, image, double exposure, speed, rhythm, angle, extreme close-ups, and a sometimes unsteady camera are played with. Images range from the abstract to the identifiable. Fans of vintage personalities should know Kiki of Montparnasse (Alice Prin) makes an appearance. Earplay accompanies the film with a score created by Nicolas Tzortzis.

Ménilmontant (1926, 44 minutes) may look more conventional in comparison to Emak-Bakia, since the former film is a narrative, but Ménilmontant’s director Dimitri Kirsanoff experimented with techniques and images in telling a comprehendible story, and he didn’t use intertitles. His leads (Nadia Sibirskaïa and Yolande Beaulieu) portray two sisters. When the film starts, they look like innocent D.W. Griffith heroines. The girls are wearing big bows, running about, and playing with each other and their cats. An axe murderer kills their parents, and their lives are disrupted. When we next see them, they’re chaperoneless young women of the flapper era, and their bond is threatened by a man with no intent of joining the family.  Stephen Horne accompanies the film.

My San Francisco Silent Film Festival preview continues with Part 3 tomorrow. If you missed Part 1 of my preview, you can read it here.

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview, Part 1

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is almost here! Its first film fills the Castro Theatre’s screen on Thursday night. We’ll rewind our scene to before its audience sits, before they pile into the picture palace, before they stand in a line snaking down Castro and stretching around the corner down 17th, and stop where they chat with anticipation about the experience that awaits them with their friends. Let’s take a look at the films selected to celebrate the festival’s twentieth anniversary.

All Quiet on the Western Front Field Juxtopostion

It’s incorrect to say the festival eases into its first screening with only one feature. A centerpiece film always kicks off the event in grand style. This year it’s the silent version of war film All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), directed by Lewis Milestone. There were actually two versions of the film made simultaneously, a sound version for English-speaking audiences and an “International Sound Version,” essentially a silent with a later added score and intertitles, written for foreign language markets. While the talkie version was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two, festival Artistic Director Anita Monga says, “Many people consider it to be superior to the sound version.” The epic devastatingly details what happens to a group of young German boys recruited to the trenches of World War I. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompany the film.

An off-site opening night party follows the movie. The McRoskey Mattress Company‘s top-floor loft turns into the Kit Kat Club, a 1920s Berlin cabaret hosted by Swedish chanteuse Clara Gustavsson. Also performing are the Craig Ventresco Trio, featuring Meredith Axelrod. Fine food and drink are part of the festivities. Your party ticket gets you nibbles from Poesia Osteria Italiana, wine from Barefoot Wine and Bubbly, beer from Sierra Nevada, and a special cocktail—the Voluptuous Panic—created by Bartavelle‘s Suzanne Drexhage. Vintage attire and dancing are encouraged! Something called the Naughty Boudoir Photo Booth makes a first appearance. Whether you enter the booth before or after imbibing is up to you!

2014 Amazing Tales From the Aarchives Bryony Presentation

Photo by Pamela Gentile from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Site

If you attend the party, keep in mind that Day 2 of the fest begins bright and early at 10 AM with Amazing Tales from the Archives! If you miss this educational session, your hardcore silent film fan friends will brag about all the interesting facts they learned and rare films they saw. The ever entertaining Serge Bromberg, of Lobster Films, recounts finding Maurice Tourneur’s 1914 short Figures de Cire (House of Wax). Bryony Dixon brings a treasure trove of footage about the RMS Lusitania to mark the centennial of its sinking, and crowd favorite actor Paul McGann adds narration to her films. Festival President Robert Byrne describes the meticulous process of reconstructing and restoring William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes. In recognition of another centennial, this time Technicolor‘s, Movette Film Transfer‘s Jennifer Miko screens a home movie shot at Hearst Castle and starring its architect Julia Morgan and W.R. HearstDonald Sosin accompanies this program.

Cave of the Spider Women

I’m excited this year’s Chinese selection deviates from past offerings. While the suffering women dramas previously screened, often starring Ruan Lingyu, were excellent, Cave of the Spider Women or Pan si dong (1927) offers something new to the program. It is a magic-spirit film, a genre popular in 1920s Shanghai, but quite rare to screen today due to so much of early Chinese film being lost. A nitrate 35mm print of the movie was discovered in the National Library of Norway‘s archives. This is not an unusual occurrence. Staffing and funding limitations mean that films listed as lost might lay in other archives undocumented and awaiting discovery and thus restoration before they deteriorate too badly to be saved. In the film. a monk and his followers—a monkey, pig, and shark spirit–search for Buddhist texts while facing dangers like the seductive Spider Queen and her handmaidens. Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius accompany the film.

When the Earth Trembled Poster

Poster Image Courtesy of EYE Filmmuseum, Desmet Collection

When the Earth Trembled (1913) fills the local interest slot. If you’re guessing by the title that it’s about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, then you are correct! The movie may be the first fictional one made about the disaster, and it incorporates real newsreel footage shot in the earthquake’s aftermath. That’s of special note since the Lubin Manufacturing Company later lost the majority of its newsreel footage in a vault fire, so contained within this disaster epic is a chance to see true life scenes that otherwise would have been destroyed. Director Barry O’Neil‘s insistence on realistic recreations adds to the sense of danger. His leading lady Ethel Clayton almost died when a chandelier fell on her during an earthquake scene. Due to his attention to detail and film mogul Siegmund Lubin devoting four months to making the movie, when normally his studio cranked out two pictures a week, they produced a mega-spectacle that’s sure to thrill today. Multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne accompanies the film.

F.W. Murnau Der letzte Mann 1924 Grooming Scene

Film critic Paul Rotha described The Last Laugh (1924), or Der letzte Mann, as “cine-fiction in its purest form.” Director F.W. Murnau‘s technique was revolutionary. He created a drama focused on an ordinary man’s fall using few intertitles, a fluid camera, and the best of Emil Jannings‘ acting ability. Jannings’ character, a hotel doorman, takes pride in the fine uniform his job provides him. The uniform brings him respect and gives him greater status in his workingclass neighborhood. When his job and uniform are taken away from him, his identity and position are the greater losses compared to the income. The perilousness of work instability and its impact on self-worth and class and social status can resonate for today’s audiences experienced in recession. Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, in its inaugural appearance accompanies the film.

Ghost Train 1927 Still

Image Courtesy of the British Film Institute

The Ghost Train (1927) is the first film adaptation of the popular stage play by Arnold Ridley. It blends horror and comedy elements in depicting what happens when strangers are stranded at a supposedly haunted train station. I’ve seen the 1941 version starring Arthur Askey, which emphasized comedy over the supernatural, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Hungarian director Géza von Bolváry was freer to play up the story’s spookier and darker aspects. After American horror hits Dracula and Frankenstein upset some vocal members of the public, the British Board of Film Censors created the H(orror) certificate as an advisement in 1932, but in reality that resulted in children under 16 being banned from cinemas showing films labeled such. British filmmakers avoided getting the certificate by avoiding the horror genre. Online clips from the silent version show clever uses of animation and superimposition. Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius accompany the film, and Paul McGann provides narration.

This concludes Part 1 of my San Francisco Silent Film Festival preview. Part 2 follows tomorrow!

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The Pre-Code Blogathon: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Trouble in Paradise Poster

It’s hard not to get seduced into enjoying Trouble in Paradise. Ernst Lubitsch‘s 1932 pre-code delights on all levels. Leads Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall look their best while giving career high performances. The dialogue they speak with ease is witty, naughty, and quotable. They move about in gorgeous art deco sets. The celebrated Lubitsch Touch makes everything tastefully titillating as word, image, and actor chemistry combine in a tale of triangular romance that leaves no doubt about consummation between its male and female pairings. The question of which lady will win the man solely seems predetermined along class lines, but digging deeper it’s the characters’ attitudes toward work which will divide them.

Trouble in Paradise Dinner Assignation

When Miriam’s “Countess” meets with Marshall’s “Baron,” they’re both working, but they don’t realize that right away. The Baron’s invited the Countess to an assignation in his hotel room. We’ve been shown clues that the Baron is not what he seems. The film starts with a robbery, which we become sure that the Baron committed. There’s a tension in watching what may be a scene of romance or a seduction designed for further larceny. The Baron told his waiter he wanted a clandestine meal that would turn his Juliet into Cleopatra. He will soon learn how calculating the Countess really is! A phone call we’re privy to both ends of dispels her carefully crafted cover.

The Countess shows some signs of recognition first. “You know when I first saw you, I thought you were an American. Someone from another world. So entirely different. Oh. One gets so tired of one’s own class. Princes and counts and dukes and kings.” Her sharp eyes detected something about him from a distance that betrayed the role he was playing. He is from another world and another class. Her boredom of royalty and aristocracy sounds real. When she discovered he is like her, she was happy and “very proud.” What does she know? In which way are they alike? Her words sound equivocal.

Trouble in Paradise Garter Scene

Over dinner, she is the one to speak first. She admits visiting him for “a little adventure, but that “something’s changed” her, “and it isn’t the champagne.” What seems to be leading up to confession of love turns into an accusation! “Baron, you are a crook. You robbed the gentleman.” As she returns to eating her meal, he tells her he would have told her everything before she left his room. He, “with love” in his heart, says, “Countess, you are a thief.” He tells her she “tickled” him when lifting his wallet, but he did not mind since her embrace was “so sweet.” A game of one-upmanship becomes foreplay. Each shows what the other stole–his wallet, her pin, his watch, and her garter. The last item earns him gasps of respect and causes her to jump into his lap.

They introduce their real selves to each other. When she asks who he is, he starts by mentioning his most famous theft. He entered the The Bank of Constantinople, and he walked out with it. She’s delighted to learn he is The Gaston Monescu. While she, Lily, is not as well known as he, he gushes, “I loved you the moment I saw you. I’m mad about you.” His terms of endearment are all work-related. To him, she’s “my little shoplifter, my sweet little pickpocket, my darling.” He admires her and her craft. They are alike, and they are in love. A night together turns into almost a year of love and thievery.

Trouble in Paradise Purse Return

Their mistake is stealing from a peace conference. He is caught and relieved of their loot by the police, but he escapes. That leaves them looking for more jobs, like stealing a jewel-encrusted purse from Kay Francis’s Madame Mariette Colet at the opera. She’s a young widow quite loose with her inherited money, and she paid 125,000 francs for a purse evaluated by Gaston to be worth only 40,000 francs. She’s innocent enough to believe it lost, so she advertises a reward of 20,000 francs for its safe return. Since the purse is worth less on the black market, Gaston and Lily decide to return the purse and use the money to celebrate their anniversary.

While returning the purse, Gaston sees the possibility of a longer con. Madame is bored “to distraction” by work and detail. She relies on others to maintain her interests and lives a care-free life in pursuit of pleasure and amusement. When she hints she’s uncomfortable bringing up the reward money, Gaston lets her know he’s not to proud to accept it being part of the “nouveau poor.” She’s attracted to him and intrigued by his flirting, so she offers this jobless man the position of personal secretary. Mariette had to let her last one go for having too much fun. He accepts, and over the months he manipulates the situation to be in control of her figure, assets, and household.

Trouble  in Paradise Assistant and Mistress

He even installs Lily as his assistant. She’s uncomfortable with the gig because “this woman has more than jewelry.” Gaston assure Lily that Mariette’s only “sex appeal” is her safe full of money and jewels. In order not be be seen as competition by Mariette, Lily reduces her own sex appeal by wearing glasses and zipping up her tops. She’s Miriam Hopkins, so she’s gorgeous. Mariette decides to increase Lily’s salary by 50 francs so she’ll work harder to make Gaston freer from work, but only if Lily is gone by 5 PM each day. Mariette wants Gaston to herself in the evenings.

There’s the whole question of what kind of man Gaston is becoming. Is he falling in love with Madame and becoming redeemed? Is she in love with him or making him her latest amusement? She’s had string of buffoonish suitors she’s let hang around her for laughs. Will the thief be ruined by the widow? Lily is afraid the answer is yes, that Gaston with all of his skills and intelligence will fall into the lowest category of conman and manhood. “Darling, remember you are Gaston Monescu. You are a crook. I want you as a crook. I love you as a crook. I worship you as a crook. Steal! Swindle! Rob! Oh, but don’t become one of those useless, good for nothing gigolos.”

Trouble in Paradise Bed Shadow

Gaston realizes his identity will be discovered soon, and though he makes plans to flee with Lily, Mariette and Gaston get closer. He tries to be the gentleman that Lily feared he will become and make sure association with a secretary won’t ruin Mariette’s reputation, but she doesn’t care about ruining his reputation. She promises him a long time ahead of them–“weeks, months, years.” She doesn’t care about their class or position differences or gossip. Her suitors figure they’ve lost her to this boring, “dependable,” “insignificant” man, the type women marry. They’re confusing their types with his, and they’re soon shocked with the revelation of who Gaston is!

Mariette goes to Gaston when she hears who he is. She must discover the truth for herself. Unlike Lily, criminality holds no appeal to her. She would act if she discovered she was robbed. She’s becoming embittered because she thought he loved her, not her money. She doesn’t understand a man who started with nothing and worked his way up, even if he started off the wrong way at first. No matter their love and how “marvelous” life could have been together, there will always be the threat of the policeman at the door with a warrant. Gaston’s profession has precluded their chance at happiness, even if she forgives his deception. They understand each other and their situation at last.

Trouble in Paradise End

Gaston returns to Lily with a present taken by him but knowingly given by Mariette, an apology of sorts by both. Gaston and Lily resume their foreplay of mutual thievery from each other’s person, and she knows he has returned to her fully. She embraces him in delight. The crooks get a happier ending than the traditional heroine! They’ll live, love, and work side-by-side. Perhaps their eventual offspring will enter the family business.

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This post is part of The Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Danny of Pre-Code.Com and Karen of Shadows and Satin. Please click the banner above to read more great entries about this fun time in motion pictures!

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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.

 

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Fabulous Films of the 50s CMBA Blogathon: It Should Happen to You (1954)

 

It Should Happen to You Poster

 

Garson Kanin originally wrote It Should Happen to You as a vehicle for Danny Kaye. When his creative partner and wife Ruth Gordon read it, she knew who would be perfect for the part—Judy Holliday! The script was rewritten for her. What resulted was part satire on the pursuit of fame and part romantic comedy.  At its center is Judy’s character Gladys Glover, an American girl who’s average, but not too average, possessing more than a smidgen of Billie Dawn’s initial ditziness, but a lot more ambition. She wants to make a name for herself. She’s not sure at what or how, but she’s got the will to make her way, and the $1,000 in her bank account will help her.

It Should Happen to You Gladys's Feet

When we first meet Gladys, she’s roaming the park depressed and shoeless. She’s lost her job modeling girdles on account of being ¾ of an inch too wide. A transplant to New York City, she travelled there with the hopes of many young women. She wanted to make it big in the city and not through marriage. Now she’s been there two years, and she fears even if she had not lost her job she would be getting nowhere in her quest not to be nobody. She’s removed her shoes in order to think about what to do next.

It Should Happen to You Altercation

Her shoelessness and a hilarious altercation with another park patron accusing her of trying to pick him up draw the attention of documentary filmmaker Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon). He’s another transplant, and the two bond over the unfriendliness of New Yorkers. That may be an in-joke because offscreen Judy and Jack bonded because they were both native New Yorkers in Hollywood. She’s very hard on herself to him saying her name isn’t “much of a name” because “nobody ever heard of it, and I guess nobody ever will.” He thinks she’s on the “young side,” and that’s why she’s so bothered.

It Should Happen to You Serious Talk

In some ways, Gladys’s lament could be made by any person. He or she moves somewhere like a big city and struggles to get ahead or even just to live. The grand ambitions of being important or doing something important can get lost in the daily grind of making that living. Combine that with the alienation involved in living somewhere you don’t know hardly anyone in an unfriendly seeming place, and the world becomes too much for some. As Gladys says, “Some people when they get to that point, when they realize they’re getting nowhere, you know, they just kill themselves. I don’t feel like it.”

It Should Happen to You You'll Get It

As a woman, she knows her options. “The only other thing is to go back home. Do the same thing as everybody else. Go back to work in the shoe factory. Marry the first man that asks or the second. And then good-bye name for yourself. Good-bye dreams. In fact, good-bye Charlie.” Her name could be replaced by her husband’s before she’s done anything with it. She’s presenting two options: Will she keep up her pursuit or give in to conventionality and become somebody’s wife? Pete assures her, “Good luck to you, Gladys. I sure hope you make a name for yourself if that’s what you want. If that’s what you really want, you’ll get it.” He gets her number to call her later, and he does.

It Should Happen to You This Space For Rent

 

It Should Happen to You Epiphany

 

It Should Happen to You Fantasy Billboard

Inspiration strikes when she sees an empty billboard in Columbus Circle! She will spend her savings to put her name up on the billboard. We’re treated to a fantasy sequence of Gladys imaging all the ways her name and image can be painted on the billboard. Judy makes Gladys seem so happy and genuine in her awe that we feel excited for her, too. She has no further plans than seeing her name erected in big letters for the maximum amount of time she can afford. She’s found her way to be “above the crowd.” She sets about her task immediately.

It Should Happen to You Weight Loss Ad

The film shows its screwball comedy roots by making the situation spiral out of control. That one billboard will lead to others and eventually a job of being famous to be famous. Gladys becomes a hit, especially on the TV circuit, where her quirky responses make audiences laugh. Soon those who contributed to her rise will find ways to make money off of her. Her name becomes known, but what will it mean to those who know it? Will success spoil Gladys Glover and cause a rift in her nascent relationship with Pete? Will she make her name stand for something or has she sold-out permanently?

It Should Happen to You Let's Fall in Love Reprise

Hidden within the comedy is a conservatism in Gladys’s represented choices. She can keep pursuing fame and become an oddity, or she can become Pete’s wife. What of a middle way? Kanin hints to us about her remaining ambition at film’s end. All that ambition would need an outlet. Daily household tasks would not be likely releases. Judy “liked playing characters who wouldn’t settle for being ordinary, who struggled to live their lives as responsibly and creatively as possible.” Judy enchants us as Gladys, and we want Gladys to be happy. We don’t want Gladys to settle even if she settles down with Pete. Judy keeps enough sparkle in Gladys’s eyes to hint at this third option.

 

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This post has been part of the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s blogathon Fabulous Films of the 50s. Find its other fun and fabulous entries here.

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