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Coming Back from Hiatus!

Ever Felt Watched

I confess I took an unannounced hiatus from Spellbound by Movies. That doesn’t mean I’ve not been indulging in my movie love. I had an overwhelmingly good time at the twentieth San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and I flew out to New York state for my second Capitolfest, which remains a favorite. I’ll be blogging about both events belatedly here, so don’t worry about missing out on my observations of either. My pre-coverage of the fests here and/or on Twitter was only the start. I’ve been watching a lot of movies, reading about them, listening to some great movie podcasts, and even taking Hitchcock-inspired selfies, like the above. I’ve joined some upcoming blogathons. That means I have a lot to share with you. Watch this writer and blog become more active again!

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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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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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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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Romantic Comedy Blogathon: Love Crazy (1941)

Love Crazy Poster

Love Crazy opens with Steve Ireland (William Powell) singing along with It’s Delightful to be Married. The film reunites him with frequent co-star Myrna Loy, playing his wife Susan. Together in the Thin Man series, they showed screengoers how delightful it was to be married. Their chemistry combined with their characters’ mature relationship with each other stood out in an industry often selling new love. Love Crazy takes that wonderfully familiar chemistry and slightly alters the actors’ Thin Man personas and inserts them into a romantic, screw ball comedy. The film even borrows a plot point from the original source material of its theme song. It came from Anna Held‘s Broadway hit The Parisian Model. In it, her character pretends to be something she is not. Steve has to pretend he is legally crazy to save his marriage!

Love Crazy Cuddlers

How did Steve get to that point? When the film starts, he’s revealed to be a devoted, romantic husband. He and Susan are about to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary. He has music and flowers ready. Combined with a nice dinner, that comprise the average man’s effort. Steve, being an architect, has grander plans. The couple’s anniversary ritual is to recreate their wedding night. It includes a four hour walk and canoe rowing. He’s just the sort of man that thought incorporating an “Eskimo” wedding ritual into his own would be great fun and make them legally married among the Eskimos. Because of his quirks and past partying, he’s the sort of man that will have difficulty convincing those familiar with him that he’s crazy. They’ll merely think he is tight. The man who likes to play has a harder time convincing others he has not reverted to his playboy ways when an ex-girlfriend moves into his apartment building.

Love Crazy Susan Ireland

Susan, “Honey Face,” seems like the perfect wife. Since Myrna portrays her, she’s beautiful in face, voice, and fashion. Her close-ups featuring that face framed by set curls don’t need to be shot using a haze lens to be dreamy. Her lilting voice charms, and her accent shows her character’s upper-class status. Her glamorous outfits enhance her stream-lined, yet womanly shape, and some of her gowns feature plunging necklines that might only be tasteful on her. Physically and in her character’s interactions with Powell’s (the “man who knew exactly what I wanted”), she embodies a healthy sexuality, made non-threatening by cinematic marriage. All these attributes alone would make female filmgoers want to be Myrna and thus Susan, even before Powell or Steve is taken into consideration. Her character is game for whatever fun her husband thinks up, even if it means celebrating their anniversary backwards.

Love Crazy Mrs. Cooper

Susan’s downfall is being too influenced by her mother, Florence Bates‘s Mrs. Cooper, and that woman does not like Steve.  Susan has a temper, so when hurt, she’s not above seeking revenge, a trait that is exploited by her mother. It’s no accident she chooses to interrupt their wedding anniversary. She pops by bearing a gift wanted by neither spouse, a circular carpet that not only does not go with their hallway floor, but also it’s actually dangerous. The floor is so polished that to walk on the carpet is to risk injury from falling. It’s almost as though she has left a trap to dispatch her son-in-law. She should be awarded a gold medal in undermining. She observes and waits to ask prying questions to find fault and aggravate any situation. Her being an interfering busybody leads to a misunderstanding that almost results in her daughter’s divorce!

Love Crazy Isobel Grayson

The movie follows the screwball convention of adding complication upon complication. Besides the meddling mother-in-law, there’s the previously mentioned ex-girlfriend, Isobel Grayson (Gail Patrick). She dated Steve immediately prior to him proposing to Susan, who has a very low opinion of Isobel. Susan doesn’t trust her. Susan shouldn’t. Steve has an elevator accident that provides one of film’s top visual gags. It even incorporates a dog for those missing Asta. Isobel happens to be present and takes him back to her apartment to recuperate, where she plies him alcohol and talks nostalgically about the “old times” and the “same old Stevie.” He resists her words and tickles(!) by saying “I’m married now,” and she quickly responds with “Well, so am I! What’s that got to do with it?” He answers, “You don’t stick to the rules.” Isobel and he have two different views of what marriage entails. His view matches her husband’s.

Love Crazy Mrs. Cooper Who Came to Dinner

So what’s the catalyst for the disharmony ahead? The unwanted carpet! The Mrs. Cooper finally decides to do the right thing and leave the lovebirds to celebrate alone. Shades of The Man Who Came to Dinner as she goes to exit, she walks across her gift, slips, and twists her ankle. Susan has to take over her mother’s errand of picking up her aunt from the train station, which will take all night. Steve gets stuck with his mother-in-law that whole time. That makes for some anniversary! He can’t be blamed for escaping out for the evening, but he makes a poor decision of accepting Isobel’s invitation to go out. Susan doesn’t like that one bit when her mother tattles. She decides to pull her own prank and sets up a scene for Steve to walk into. She will make him and Isobel jealous by getting caught in a set-up scene with Mr. “Pinky” Grayson (Donald MacBride).

Love Crazy Bow & Arrow Man

Of course, things don’t go as planned. This is a screwball comedy. She walks into the wrong man’s apartment. Ward Willoughby’s (Jack Carson) a world champion archer complete with athletic physique, and he thinks she’s pursuing him after seeing him in the elevator. What is it with that apartment building’s elevator inspiring possible romantic escapades? She thinks he’s Mr. Grayson. She’s surprised to find him in his undershirt practicing archery. When she confesses she’s waiting for her husband when he kisses her too enthusiastically, he suddenly fears a shakedown by blackmailers. He turns menacing, and her calling him Mr. Grayson makes him realize she’s in the wrong apartment. That’s his neighbor. He can’t help but be intrigued by this strange, beautiful woman.

Love Crazy Hall Confrontation

When she leaves his apartment, she sees Steve and Isobel in front of the Grayson apartment. Pinky returns home, realizes who Susan is, and wants to know why she kept him waiting at his studio upstairs. He was not home. Is Steve leaving the Grayson apartment, or are Steve and Isobel returning from a walk? The implication being that if he was in his married ex-girlfriend’s apartment with her and without her husband present some monkey business must have been going on. Will Susan trust Steve or jump to conclusions her mother would encourage? Susan’s jealousy ploy works, and Steve wants to know what she’s been up to with those two men.

Love Crazy Bedroom Heart-to-Heart

Later in Susan and Steve’s bedroom, they discuss the evening. Steve wants to be believed that he was on a walk with Isobel. She doesn’t want to be the “jealous type.” She asks for reassurance that her husband would never lie to her, and he responds, “Not on our anniversary.” Susan is amused by Steve wondering about her and Ward, and he wants to know why the other man was half-dressed. She tells him, “He has to have his torso free when he shoots his bow and arrow” “What kind of answer is that?” asks Steve. “He’s the world champion bow and arrower.” To that extraordinary sounding explanation, Steve can only respond, “You believe me, I’ll believe you.” A phone call soon shatters Susan’s belief in him. She no longer trusts him. Her mother has won.

Love Crazy Kissing Therapy

We spend the rest of the movie watching Steve try to win back Susan. First he has only two months to change her mind before their court hearing. When she hides away that whole time, he’s forced to take desperate measures. The only way to postpone their divorce is to appear to be crazy. His gags get crazier and funnier, and while they fool no one who knows him, they will be a little too convincing for the authorities. Can Steve get out of a sanatorium? Can he prevent Ward from stealing away his wife?  Can he convince her that nothing happened between him and Isobel? Can he win back Susan after all he’s done? Are you prepared to see Powell dressed as if he’s auditioning for Charley’s Aunt? Since the leads are played by Myrna Loy and William Powell, you likely will be able to answer before seeing the film!

Love Crazy "Miss" Ireland & Susan Ireland

The fun is watching how two film favorites play these love crazy fools and all the antics they get into. Because their characters are married and because of who plays them, the script can be a little franker about their sexuality and the possibility of adultery. The dialogue zingers reflect this, like when Susan and Steve talk about Isobel. Steve says, “She’s married now–got a husband.” Susan retorts, “Yeah? Whose husband has she got?” The film through comedy shows in an exaggerated way the pitfalls that could befall a modern marriage—lies, jealousy, meddlers, grudge holding, and outside interested parties. In providing us laughs and in reuniting the leads, we’re entertained and reassured. We’re reassured that despite the wacky situations they get themselves into they make it, so maybe our relationships can weather their more everyday ups and downs, too. The best romantic comedies always sell romance back to us.

Love Crazy The Wig is Off!

This has been a very belated entry in the Romantic Comedy Blogathon, hosted by Lara from Backlots and Vince from Carole & Co. To read entries from day one go here, day two here, day three here, and day four here. I’m sure you’ll find many of your favorite classic film romantic comedies being celebrated!

 

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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

For Valentine’s Day, here is one of my favorite romantic scenes from a musical. The film Lovely to Look At, a remake of Roberta, may not be memorable as a whole, but it showcases some imaginative dance sequences featuring Marge and Gower Champion. While they had the unenviable task of replacing Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, the Champions were gifted with not recreating the earlier pair’s routines. The Champions’ dances were mostly freed from the show within a picture’s stagings. In Lovely to Look at, the big performance to save the fashion house remains, but their other dance scenes show their characters’ flirtations that lead to romance and to them falling in love.

In the above scene, their characters have spent the night accompanying their friends from boîte to boîte. Left alone, they have no distractions. He wants to dance with her one more time, that’s the only way he can hold a girl in his arms in a crowded room and have her all to himself, and she agrees after initially resisting. They have fun, and dance well together, and then the camera moves in for a close-up when they pause in front of a window. When it pulls back, we see the nightclub set has vanished, and only the starry night remains. In multiple long takes, they dance on and among the stars. They’re the only two people in their universe at that moment, and they both hear, feel, and move to the same song. They’re a perfect pairing. Long before they walk off together into the night, we know they have fallen in love. We’ve watched it happen.

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A Movie Manifesta

Spellbound by Movies is a passion project. I fell in love with movies at a young age. As an only child I might have been more susceptible to their lure. I was making up my own stories already, and I grew up in a place rich with history, which meant listening to others’ stories. Seeing a movie on the big screen or on TV, I was able to suspend my disbelief and let the magic of the movies wash over me.

Millicent Library Fairhaven Mass

In a lot of ways, I feel lucky to have grown up when I did. My family are moviegoers, and they took me when I was too little to take myself or make my own film choices. My maternal grandfather loved country music, and he used to make up stories of knowing cowboys like John Wayne or belles like Mae West. I knew his stories were fabrications, but they were fun nonetheless.

John Wayne Portrait

Weekend TV was full of classic comedies like Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello as well as creature and horror features from Universal and other studios. Black and white was simply another viewing option, not an impediment to enjoyment. Some of the comedies were talkies and some were silent save for their musical score. All were funny.

Laurel and Hardy Sssh

We got cable when I was in elementary school, and my options of movie choices expanded. Perhaps M was a little intense for an elementary school-aged child to watch by herself, it was disturbing, but I was blown away by how powerful a movie it was and how a balloon floating away could say so much about another child’s fate. Channels like AMC and later TCM gave me greater exposure to film classics.

M Balloon Floating Away

Then the home video explosion occurred and became affordable, and I could watch anything available to rent on VHS from the teen favorites of those who a little older than I was to horror, foreign, art house and more. I was old enough not to drive yet, but I could rent my own movies. I kept watching as VHS shifted to DVDs and as my friends and I got old enough to drive ourselves.

Colleen Moore Electric Car Synthetic Sin

When I started taking film classes at my university, I came to some realizations. I had a very good memory for films and their details compared to my peers. I could recall scenes in detail they couldn’t, and I had aural abilities that allowed me to recognize pieces of music quickly, like soundtrack music. I had a facility for talking about film that improved under instruction. I also developed a greater appreciation for silent film inspired by a classroom screening of The Wind.

Lillian Gish at Door The Wind

When I left school, I graduated with a renewed love of film. It later showed itself in the silent film nights I organized at Flywheel, where I served as a member of the arts collective for several years. It shows itself in my reading choices and book collection and in the art I have on my walls. It shows in my movie logging on Twitter, where I often record watching out-of-print movies on VHS secured by interlibrary loan by my husband, also a movie lover.

Musidora as Irma Vep Stows Away Medium

Even though I may offer more criticism of the medium now, it’s done with love and enthusiasm, never cynicism or nihilism. My goals are to discuss the medium and to connect with others. If anything more comes from the blog, fantastic! If not, it’s time well spent. Who wouldn’t want to be spellbound at least once in a while?

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For the Love of Film (Noir): Christmas Holiday (1944)


Any holiday can bring out the worst in people, but Christmas Holiday really isn’t about the supposedly joyous season. It’s a noir, so how can it be? A soldier’s Christmas leave provides the frame for the story. He”s just been jilted by his sweetheart, and he’s angry, so angry that he has to call upon her and her new husband across the country despite his friend’s warnings to stay away and cool down. Winter weather isn’t very kind to this hothead or his plans and strands him in New Orleans. He’s an easy target for a newspaper reporter who makes extra money leading men astray to the local brothel. There he meets a dark lady. First she fascinates him, and then she serves as his warning sign. She shows him what happens to those who cling to failed love affairs when they should have let go long ago.

Christmas Holiday (1944): Dean Harens, Richard Whorf, & Gladys George

Deanna Durbin can’t escape her singing career in this film. She plays Jackie Lamont the mysterious chanteuse-and-maybe-more of the brothel. In a gown slit to there, she looks grown-up, moody, and hard, yet our hero Lieutenant Charlie Mason (Dean Harens) is still drawn to her. Other men want to meet her, but they’re handed over to other girls working the club. Maybe she’s part of a bait-and-switch ploy, or maybe only the big spenders get her, or maybe what turns out to be another kindly screen madame (Gladys George as Valerie de Merode) protects Jackie. Mason must impress her as being different because she introduces him to Jackie, who’s none too thrilled.

After some dancing and barely chatting, Jackie must decide that Charlie is okay, too. He doesn’t know who she is. He’s some troubled guy on leave. That may make her trust him. She makes him attend midnight mass with her. During the service in the cathedral, she makes the second worst move of any pseudo-date. She breaks down bawling. Charlie does not flee like most strangers would from such a hot mess. He stays and makes sure that she’s alright as someone like her can be.  Since he’s gained her trust, she tells him her real name, Abigail Martin. He has no idea who she is, so she tells him her story.

Her husband Robert Manette (Gene Kelly) is infamous, but she takes Mason and us back to when she first met him. They chance to meet at a musical performance. Nick Hornby was right when he wrote of how anyone who’s passionate about music has known what it is to be lonely. They needed that time alone to develop their bond with and their taste for music. Abigail is a single girl attending a concert by herself. Robert seems to be there half for the music and half for the macking. He’s got a city guy feel that contrasts with her more suburban one. He wears down her defenses with his manic charm, and they become a couple. She has no idea how troubled he is.

Abigail Martin (Deanna Durbin) & Her Mother-in-Law (Gale Sondergaard)

His mother Mrs. Manette (Gale Sondergaard) does, but she never directly tells Martin. She’s so naïve that she misses all the hints, like being told she’ll be good for him, that they will take care of him together. She never onces wonders why these members of a once illustrious family live isolated in their grand old house. Manette is a little man, a momma’s boy who makes messes that his mother cleans up, and Abigail becomes the third wheel to that couple. Robert murders a bookie and finally gets himself into trouble that his mother can’t cover up, and she blames herself and Abigail for failing him.

Deanna Durbin & Gene Kelly Noir Lighting

Formerly lonely Abigail becomes lonely again. With too much time on her hands, she obsesses over her romance and pines for her husband. She becomes a celebrity by her association with him, yet she’s an outcast because she cannot stop loving him. His mother’s words haunt her, and she believes them. She thinks she failed her husband, and she punishes herself by falling lower in society and taking her singing job. It’s as if the contagion of his mother’s pathology has been passed on to her. As the new Mrs. Manette she’s taken over the old sick role.

Deanna Durbin Singing in Christmas Holiday

Charlie has met someone worse off than himself, and his thoughts of Abigail that prevent him from leaving. Momentarily it seems that a romance might brew between the two–if she can get over her husband, but he can’t stay in jail. He’ll never get out for good behavior, so he breaks out, and he’s very mad that his wife has been spending time with another, and he’s not believing they’re platonic friends.

I’ve shared a lot of the plot, so I don’t want to spoil the film’s conclusion, but I do not get the people who think it has a hopeful ending. Look at Dean Harens’s expression at the end. He shows that Charlie is horrified. Sometimes people cannot overcome their obsessions. Sometimes their obsessions do break them. Love transforms, but not everyone is made better by that transformation, especially in the noir world, and I fear Abigail is too far gone.

Deanna Durbin Crying in Christmas Holiday

This post was written as part of the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon hosted by The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films. If you’ve enjoyed reading it, please consider giving to a great cause, the Film Noir Foundation. Your contribution will help restore another great film noir. Please click on the Maltese Falcon below to make a donation.


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