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

TCMFF 2017 Banner

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

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

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

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

The 1940s have five offerings:

The 1950s have six offerings:

The 1960s have four offerings:

 

The 1970s have six offerings:

The 1980s have no offerings.

The 1990s have one offering:

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

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

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

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

Les Vampires Irma Vep Poster in Le Cryptogramme Rouge

Les Vampires (1915-1916)

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

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

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

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

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

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

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

My Man Godfrey Carole Lombard William Powell Dishwashing Scene

My Man Godfrey (1936)

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

Regain / Harvest (1937)

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

Five Movies on an Island Blogathon

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

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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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The William Wellman Blogathon: Maybe It’s Love (1930)

Maybe It's Love 1930 Sheet Music

After William Wellman got sick of his treatment at Paramount Pictures, he showed why his nickname “Wild Bill” stuck. He covered Producer B.P. Schulberg‘s desk in manure and left a note on top of the pile reading: “Here’s what I think of your lousy script!” Despite his bad boy behavior, Wellman was in demand. He could make any script better by adding his distinctive touches, and he did it while staying on schedule and under budget. After he was done demonstrating his opinion to Schulberg, Wellman literally hopped into his roadster and sped from Paramount in Hollywood to Warner Brothers in Burbank, where he was signed for a two-year deal by Darryl F. Zanuck. While Zanuck promised that Wellman would get to make his own projects, the first picture Wellman worked on was an assignment, Maybe It’s Love.

The College Widow 1927

Dolores Costello & William Collier, Jr. in The College Widow (1927)

It wasn’t a hoary old chestnut like Charley’s Aunt, but the movie’s original source material was twenty-six years old, and it had been adapted in one form or another multiple times. The project’s original DNA came from a play. George Ade‘s The College Widow was a stage hit in 1904. The play kept its original title when it was filmed by the Lubin Company in 1915. That was the era of simply filming a play as is, and stage and film star Ethel Clayton played the title role. In 1917 Jerome KernGuy Bolton, and P. G. Wodehouse turned the play into a stage musical called Leave It to Jane. Its’ first run was a critical hit, but a modest commercial success. Another silent film adaptation followed in 1927, and again the play’s title was kept. Dolores Costello took her turn playing the college vamp. This last film was a Warner Brothers project, so the studio was remaking its own product three years later for the sound era.

Daryl F. Zanuck 1937 by Peter Stackpole

Daryl F. Zanuck in 1937 by Peter Stackpole

Why the studio interest in this material? Zanuck favored seeing the movie produced because he had co-authored a new take under the pen name Mark Canfield. The studio could exploit the subject’s sound possibilities and the college movie craze all at once. Wellman had little interest in the project, but he wanted to please Zanuck, whom Wellman held in high regard: “I admired him for his guts and the quality he had of grabbing a headline and generating the speed and enthusiasm all down the line to make a good picture quickly–at this he was a master and the hardest-working little guy you have ever seen in all your life.” Wellman accepted the assignment.

Maybe It's Love Flirting Tutorial

Joe E. Brown’s Speed Teaches Joan Bennett’s Nan to How to Flirt

The plot of the movie is as follows. Joan Bennett plays Nan. She’s the daughter of Upton College’s president, and he’s been threatened to lose his position by the school’s board if the football team doesn’t finally have a winning season. They’ve lost for the last twelve years to rival school Parsons. Joe E. Brown plays Speed. He’s the football team’s star player, and its only valuable one. The rest of the team would be bench sitters at another school with quality players. Speed convinces the “mousy” Nancy to turn herself into a college widow and seduce the nation’s best footballers to enroll at Upton. Nan is willing to do almost anything to save her father’s career, and she agrees. She gets a makeover and flirting lessons from Speed. The rest of the movie mixes comedy and drama. We see Nan’s choreographed seductions of football stars and how she tries to juggle multiple men on campus at once before falling for one of the lot, James Hall‘s Tommy Nelson. Of course, Nan’s machinations get found out, which puts the big game and her in peril.

Maybe It's Love Canoe Tipped Scene

There are plenty of pre-code elements in the picture. What a college widow can get up to is shown. Normally a college widow goes through a succession of men, not dating the whole team at once like Nan does! Then there’s an implication that maybe Nan goes to a greater extent in her seductions than simply flirting. We see Nan seduce fella after fella using different tricks. One lad goes canoeing to canoodle with her, only to end up tipped into the drink on purpose. When Nan emerges from the water, her thin dress is plastered against her body, and every curve is evident as are her pointing nipples. Her body is on display as bait. When Nan falls for Tommy, they take their romance behind a pillar. The audience is left to imagine at least necking if not heavy petting. There’s a dance scene in which the football team circle Nan and dance around her with their bottoms in the air. The oddest pre-code moments are Speed hiding, watching, coaching, and commenting on Nan’s shenanigans. He comes off very creepy. He seems pimp-like and to be taking too much pleasure in the goings on. When the players later turn on Nan after realizing her manipulations, there’s a momentary feeling of danger. They want to humiliate her as they feel humiliated by her. How far will they take their revenge?

Maybe It's Love Football Practice

Despite having Wellman as a helmer, Maybe It’s Love isn’t a successful picture. “Originally planned as a full scale musical, much of the music was removed before release because of the public’s apathy and aversion towards musicals in the autumn of 1930.” These cuts turned the picture into a comedy with some musical numbers. The film feels disjointed. Joe E. Brown would become a major star one year later, and he seems like he should be featured more throughout the movie as its billed second lead. His character is mostly sidelined after Nan’s real romance ignites, and James Hall becomes the film’s de facto male lead. Brown isn’t well shown either. His character comes off as weird, loud, and annoying. His comedic college athlete persona would be much better shown in 1931’s Local Boy Makes Good. Laura Lee appears as Betty at film’s start. She’s Speed’s girl, so I expected the Brown and Lee characters’ romance would parallel the one of the straight romantic leads like in 1930’s Top Speed, but she disappears until the film’s end. The energy and enthusiasm lacking in the shooting of most of the comedic scenes becomes even more apparent when the final game hits the screen. Those football scenes are much more dynamic and show more of Wellman’s directorial mastery.

William Wellman Directing “Young Eagles” in 1930

William Wellman Directing Young Eagles in 1930

Any Wellman fan watching this picture would look for evidence of his direction, and it can be found. As Frank Thompson once wrote, “No matter how slight the film seemed to be, no matter how trivial the subject matter, Wellman was able to leave his personal imprint on the finished product.” Maybe It’s Love falls on the slighter picture scale, yet there are undeniably Wellman moments. During Tommy and Nan’s falling in love scene, a long, slow dolly shot goes through the water bursts of a fountain to the lovers and pulls back as they disappear to continue their lovemaking offscreen. Before that moment, he shoots some of the love scenes so that his leading lady’s face is obscured by leaves and the pillar. He sacrifices showcasing his actress during a big moment for his signature preoccupation of making an audience work as they watch a scene. Wellman was a former football player, and he knows how to feature the sport. During the final game, Wellman intercuts newsreel or stock footage from at least one football game with his scenes to give a sense of scale. The crowd attending looks huge which makes the pressure on the athletes feel greater. A really clever moment has Wellman doing quick cuts between a referee and a player on the field. We get flashes of two different actions occurring simultaneously, increasing the sense of dynamism as our minds process the fast layering of images. Such flashes of brilliance momentarily elevate this lesser quality programmer.

If you’d like to view Maybe It’s Love look for it under the more salacious title of  Eleven Men and a Girl.  For television airing, the movie’s title was changed. It sometimes airs on Turner Classic Movies, and Warner Archive released a disc for those unwilling to wait for a repeat airing or wanting to add to their home collection.

 

This post is part of Now Voyaging‘s William Wellman blogathon. For other posts celebrating this director’s work and life, please click the banner below. Many great classic and silent film bloggers are participating, and they’ve written their hearts out. Visit their blogs and leave comments, and you will thrill them!

William Wellman Blogathon 2015

Additional Source

Wellman, William, Jr. Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel. N.p.: Pantheon, 2015. Print.

 

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For the Love of Film Blogathon: The Tin Man (1935)

The Tin Man Lobby Card

Photo sourced from Benny Drinnon’s movie blog.

I’ve been planning a post on The Tin Man for a while, and the For Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon has provided the perfect push to write about this odd comedy short. Every year the blogathon has a theme, and this year’s theme is science fiction.

The Tin Man fits the theme like Frankenstein would. Both movies contain a mad scientist and a being he’s created in his laboratory, and both have elements from the horror genre. Instead of a castle, our film’s heroines find themselves in an dark, creepy house full of frights. There’s no weird sidekick to the scientist, but an escaped criminal fills the spot of added danger. What makes this short so memorable is the failure and abuse of technology is portrayed as the lesser horror than modern dating.

The Tin Man Title Card

It’s a nice touch that the credits tie into the robot man theme by looking like panels of tin with bolts. When the last panel slides away, we see that Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly are driving through the fog. They’re dressed up for a party or a date, but they can’t find the house. It turns out Patsy wrote down its address in the dark, so she never noticed the fountain pen she used was out of ink. Patsy only has a blank piece of paper. A radio bulletin warning motorists and pedestrians about an escaped convict keeps them driving until they’re lured to stop at a house by its lights.

The Tin Man Girls Enter House

The duo don’t know it, but they’re about to enter a house designed to be a trap! When they ring the doorbell, the house’s doors open by themselves as the chimes ring. The women cautiously enter what looks like an uninhabited home. There are sheets of cloth over its furniture. When the camera cuts to a ceramic face on the wall, movie conventions make us guess someone will be staring through the eye holes. He is!

The Tin Man Mad Scientist Intro

We’ve found our mad scientist. Another cut shows his spying location. He’s in his lab, where he’s laughing in a crazed manner. Actor Clarence Wilson is clearly having fun playing his part. Do not expect subtly in performance or costuming. He’s an older, hunched over, balding, little man. His crown of remaining hair makes two points going upward like horns. He’s surrounded by generic mad scientist lab equipment.

We quickly find out why he’s so delighted to have Patsy and Thelma in his home: “At last! At last, the Gods have been good to me. Not only one, but two, two females have walked into my clutches. (Laughs maniacally.) I’ll make them and all their sex pay for ignoring, slighting, and insulting me! Revenge is sweet!” The rest of the film revolves around his acts of revenge and how they spiral out of control.

The Tin Man's Control Panel

He’s invented a surrogate to take his place in interacting with women. On the wall, we spy the first part of it. We see an image of a man. It looks like an idealized version of the scientist. It’s taller, stands straighter, and has limbs that are thicker and look stronger. Like its creator, the man on the wall has a mustache. Surrounding him are lights, wires, knobs, and levers. He is the robot’s control panel.

Before the scientist flips a lever to bring his creation to life, he has another evildoer monologue: “Ah, my robot! My machine man. As your first step you shall lay siege to this beautiful female’s heart. A caveman assault. What sweet revenge will be mine if you succeed in winning this fool’s love. I have seen women fall for worse, and now let them suffer!” The nebbish does not want to become a superman through his creation; he wants to become a super lothario.

The Tin Man Meets Patsy and Thelma

I don’t want to spoil too many of the gags that make up the robot seduction scenes, but I have to talk about how he looks and acts. The mad scientist’s idea of a desirable man is tall, suited with an ascot around his neck, with a full head of hair, big, straight teeth in more of a perpetual grimace than a smile, and a booming, deep voice. He’s flat-headed like Frankenstein’s monster and moves in a jerky way reminiscent of that creature.

The Tin Man's Mad Scientist Speaks

The robot doesn’t have any artificial intelligence. Our crazed scientist makes him move, act, and speak using those previously mentioned wires, knobs, and levers along with a microphone. The robot’s audio equipment takes whatever the scientist says in his high-pitched voice and transforms it into a much deeper, more traditionally masculine voice.

The Tin Man Drinks

We get to see how cracked the scientist’s idea of seduction is. While he makes the robot act friendlier and politer to Thelma, obviously the beautiful one referred to earlier, the man pays more attention to Patsy. He makes his robot target her and pull stupid pranks on her again and again. The scientist never learned the dating rules that if you’re interested in a woman, you pay attention to her and not her friends, and you don’t alienate that woman by being mean to her friends.

The Tin Man Picking on Patsy

It’s not delving too deeply into a slapstick short to say this man’s harassment of Patsy reveals his own self-loathing. He picks the less conventionally attractive, less trim, klutzier, and more socially awkward of the friends to humiliate. Perhaps she could have been someone who would have sympathized with his dating troubles. Superficially and personality-wise, Patsy is out of his league, and that may be what irritates him the most.

The Tin Man Patsy Confronts the Scientist

By the time Patsy finds the man behind the wall, she’s ready to tell off the self-proclaimed “Poppa” to the robot. She wants him to “listen to Momma” and get her revenge on him to “just see how you like it.” When the battle of the sexes heats up, that’s when things in the house get even crazier. Patsy’s attempt to control the robot releases him to act out on his own. You’ll want to see what he does.  Here’s a hint. The mad scientist will scream, “Run, run for you lives! My robot is out of control.”

Pasty and Thelma Try to Stop the Tin Man

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please consider donating to the blogathon’s charity of choice, The National Film Preservation Foundation! You can use the button below to help the foundation raise funds to restore, score, and stream silent film Cupid in Quarantine (1918). The movie is a quirky, romantic comedy “that tells the story of a young couple conspiring to stay together by staging a smallpox outbreak.” If you’d like to donate, but can’t, please help spread the word about the blogathon. Everyone is welcome to check out its host blogs–Ferdy on Films, This Island Rod, and Wonders in the Dark–where you can find links to other bloggers’ entries and get fundraising updates.

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For the Love of Film Blogathon 2015

Kay Francis The Man Who Was Lost Publicity Shot

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

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

LOC Late Stage Nitrate Film Decomposition

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

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

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

Cupid In Quarantine Still 2

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

 

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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.

Pre-Code Blogathon 2015 Banner

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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Happy New Year–Especially for Fans of Clara Bow!

Clara Bow Calligraphic New Year

Happy New Year’s wishes go to readers of Spellbound! I suspect quite a few of you brought in the New Year by celebrating with cinematic treats. I did. Hubby and I brought in the New Year watching a pair of Deanna Durbin movies at the Stanford Theatre. We started with the 7:30 PM screening, which meant we got a Wurlitzer concert before and after our first film performed by Jerry Nagano. He put together a playlist full of romantic tunes, including What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? The whole audience could have answered, “Watching movies!”

That’s something the spellbound will have great opportunities for in the coming year. It promises to be a great one for revival and restoration screenings. Our calligraphic cutie Clara Bow kicks off the New Year with screenings that would tempt anyone to travel to catch her motion pictures. She’s featured in a series starting this week at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Call Her Savage: Clara Bow Hits the Screen. The series runs January 4, 2013 through February 10, 2013 in the Billy Wilder Theater, and it’s co-sponsored by the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program.

Clara Bow & Antonio Moreno in It

With Antonio Moreno in It

“Clara Bow Hits the Screen” is a great secondary title. She remains a charismatic and entertaining actress for all who are lucky or smart enough to watch one of her films today. Her impact on the audiences of yesteryear can’t be underestimated either. In her prime, she was the number one box office star in Hollywood beloved by both men and women and drawing them out to her movies, even when the scripts were weak. Her persona managed to fuse the flapper and her modern mores to a non-threatening likability normally demonstrated by the girl next door type. Of course, there were probably many who wished she was the girl next door–even today!

In Call Her Savage

In Call Her Savage

The series launches this Friday with Call Her Savage (1932) and Hoop-La (1933). These racy Pre-Codes come from near the end of her career and taunt us with her talkie potential, and their outlandish plots have to be seen to be believed. An extra bonus: The biographer of her definitive biography, Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild, David Stenn will be on hand to put her in context and discuss her life and career on January 4.

The Wild Party, a Collegiate Comedy

The Wild Party, a Collegiate Comedy

The subsequent screenings feature: Parisian Love (1925) and Capital Punishment (1925) on January 5, It (1927) and Children of Divorce (1927) on January 11, Wings (1927) on January 19, The Wild Party (1929) and a clip show of film fragments on February 8, and Kick-In (1931) and Her Wedding Night (1930) on February 10.

Clara Bow & Ralph Forbes in Her Wedding Night, still from the Clara Bow Archive

With Ralph Forbes in Her Wedding Night, still from the Clara Bow Archive

Wings, It, and The Wild Party promise to be crowd-pleasers. The clip show should be of particular interest to Bow buffs and “includes trailers from lost feature films, newsreels, recently discovered Technicolor outtakes, and Bow singing ‘True to the Navy‘ in the 1930 all-star revue Paramount on Parade.” Kick-In offers historical curiosity since it was her first film after the infamous Daisy DeVoe trial, which was damaging to Bow’s reputation at the time. It’s a testament to Bow that more people today ask Daisy Who?


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Er’way in-hay the oney-may.

I’ve been reading Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers. My favorite parts of the book are the behind-the-scenes scoop. Rogers doesn’t offer too much gossip. She focuses more on the making of her films and stage shows. Driven, she sought comfort in work even when her personal life went on the fritz. Sometimes she skimps on the personal details, and I can’t decide if she’s witholding some material to protect her privacy or if the details simply weren’t important to her. Even though she wrote a memoir, self-reflection doesn’t seem as key to her as telling her story and witnessing her faith. Occasionally she sets the record straight about an infamous incident or her celluloid contributions.

For instance, she reveals the pig latin sequence in Gold Diggers of 1933 was her idea:

One day on set, I was handed the opening song and told to learn it by that evening. The scene was to be shot the next day and we had to be up on the number. I pleaded with Malcolm Beelby, the pianist, to forsake his lunch hour to help me learn my lyrics. Malcom kindly obliged. We went into a corner of the sound stage and started to rehearse. After about three hours, I started getting a little slap-happy, so instead of singing the lyrics as they were written, I translated them into pig latin.

Darryl F. Zanuck observes her, likes it, and has the improv put into the final film.

The pig latin bit makes that production number. In close-up, Rogers the beautiful girl has enough American chutzpah to make light of all the money her depression era audiences didn’t have enough of. She’s verbally winking at them, saying I am one of you, that things will be okay as long as we can have fun. We may not be in the money, but we are in on the joke. For a moment we are her conspirators, the wall has broken down, and we are taken away from our troubles.
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Event: The Pre-Code Follies

The highlight of my weekend mail was the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum Newsletter. Each month I scan their listings looking for goodies. Lately they’ve been experimenting with their offerings. They used to hold screenings only on Saturdays, and they’ve expanded to Sundays and even the odd Friday. They’re also veering away from movies mostly from the teens and early twenties. Now there are even some sound films on their schedule.

Here’s my pick of the month from their offerings:

The Pre-Code Follies
Friday, January 30 at 8:30 PM
Edison Theater
37417 Niles Blvd, Niles (Fremont), CA
Suggested Donation $9

Get royally bent and inspired with Busby Berkeley clips, lecherous 1930s comedy shorts, Cab Calloway, salacious soundies, Betty Boop cartoons and more, hosted by the fabulous Kitten on the Keys. Enjoy a great evening of music, comedy and outrageous classic movie fun.

I imagine cartoons like the following on the programming.

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