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Feature: 6 Degrees of Separation

Olivia de Havilland

Judy Garland

Certain members of the Classic Movie Blog Association are engaging in a game of classic actor Six Degrees of Separation by which we try to connect two seemingly unconnected stars through the other actors they have worked with (think of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon). The group has moved through several rounds and has landed on Judy Garland and Olivia de Haviland.

The Ambassador's Daughter (1956)

Dawn at Noir and Chick Flicks progressed the connection to Adolphe Menjou and chosen me to keep it going. Although I’m quite familiar with Judy Garland, I am less versed on both Menjou and de Haviland. Menjou engaged in a long list of films that go back into the silent era, but I have mostly seen him in supporting roles, and his work therefore registers less easily. De Haviland has never been an overt favorite of mine, so I have not pursued many of her films. Thanks to the handy dandy Internet, however, I discovered that Menjou and de Haviland appeared in a movie together: The Ambassador’s Daughter from 1956.

Being that I have completed the connection between Garland and de Haviland (It went Garland and Deana Durbin in Every Sunday to Durbin and Menjou in One Hundred Men and a Girl to The Ambassador’s Daughter.), it is now my duty to choose the next pair of stars other bloggers will now have to connect. To make it challenging I’ll select Grace Kelly who only made 14 films and challenge Becky at Classic Becky’s Brain Food to connect the princess to Charlie Chaplin. Good Luck!

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Morning Glory

Gasser

Morning Glory (1933)

     I am a little puzzled by 1933’s Morning Glory. It was the source of Katharine Hepburn‘s first Oscar win, but the film itself is quite underwhelming and borderline bad. I also perceive this as something that had Hepburn done it later in her career, the Academy would not even have sniffed in her direction come awards season.

     Hepburn is Eva Lovelace, a young woman from a small town in Vermont who seeks a career on the New York stage. She received positive reviews in small productions at home and is highly convinced of her talents, if only she could get a break. Eva is also supremely talkative. She makes fast friends with an older actor while in the office of a Broadway producer and before he can get a work in edgewise demands he give her speaking lessons for free until she can afford to pay for them. This man, R.H. Hedges (C. Aubrey Smith) introduces the girl to the producer Louis Easton, played by Adolphe Menjou, and a playwriter Joseph Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Before departing the office where she is told there are not parts for her, Eva walks right into Easton’s office and says her farewells to the bigwig and Joseph.

     We jump to some months later when Hedges finds Eva in a diner drinking coffee, clearly her only sustenance for the day. She’s wearing the same dress we saw before but claims that she has been in and out of work on the stage. Apparently, Easton had given her a try in a small role in which she failed “to make good.” Hedges ends up taking the young woman to a party at Easton’s home where guests are celebrating the successful debut of a play written by Joseph. At this party, Eva gets drunk before fatherly figures Easton and Hedges can get a plate of food to her and while out of sight from Joseph, who has clearly taken a shine to the girl. Once sauced, Eva pets Easton’s head, puts on two Shakespearean performances and passes out at the producer’s feet. A servant is instructed to put Eva in “the” bed.

     In the morning, Easton reveals to Joseph he has “gotten involved” with a girl and needs his pal to deliver a note or possibly an envelope of money to the dame. When Joseph learns the chick is Eva, he is upset and tells Easton of his feelings. Coming down from her slumber, the aspiring actress talks to Joseph about her ambitions for a happy, successful life with Easton before departing.

     Next up is a montage of some small-town productions to which Eva has been relegated because of her Broadway failures. Somehow, however, she has also been cast in a bit-part for Joseph’s new show. When the leading lady (Mary Duncan) makes severe contract demands before the curtain opens on the first show, she is ousted and Joseph puts Eva in, where she gives a roaringly good performance. The movie concludes with Hedges and Easton warning the girl not to be a “morning glory” that fades away quickly after coming into the spotlight. Joseph then declares his love, but Eva does not want it. The scene fades out on Eva yelling how she is not afraid to be a morning glory and will spend all her money on extravagant things.

     Hopefully I conveyed in my synopsis the sort of sloppiness of this story. Firstly, I found it bizarre how a Broadway producer would behave so caringly for some nobody actress, hundreds of which pass through his office daily. Most theater-based movies depict the lofty producer to which no one can get close enough for a chance. Here, Menjou comes off as a man unnaturally fatherly toward what seems to be a talentless child. Unlike most movies about girls looking to become stage stars, Eva does not show promise or make a smash right off, which makes it also unlikely that the characters would keep giving her chances or thinking she has something in her. As for the closing sequence with congratulations being overshadowed by stern warnings not to quickly become a has-been, well that was harsh. And Hepburn’s declaration that she will be frivolous with her fame is also a what-the-hell moment. The romantic plot with Fairbanks is also poorly conveyed. We know right off he will love Eva because that’s just what happens in these movies, but one never really feels like anything solid exists there.

     Morning Glory was Hepburn’s fourth film, although it was released with two others in her second year in Hollywood, so she did well to take an Oscar so early. She also won critical acclaim for Little Women and Christopher Strong that year. Her performance here is a good one and highlights how different she was from other actresses with her funny voice and unique face. There were only two other nominees in the Best Actress category this year, but because I have not seen Lady for a Day or Cavalcade, I cannot surmise why Hepburn might have beat out the other two. Hepburn certainly gave grander performances down the road that make Morning Glory look like nothing special, but as a new star on the scene, I can understand why Hollywood was mesmerised.

A Farewell to Arms

Gasser

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

    I return to the unwed pregnancy scenario again with A Farewell to Arms in which military ambulance driver Gary Cooper has an affair with nurse Helen Hayes that results in the premature start of a family. This 1932 endeavor was the first motion picture version of an Ernest Hemingway novel. Gary Cooper became lifelong friends with Hemingway through making this film and would go on to act in For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1943 as well.  

     Cooper’s lieutenant, who is an American participating with the Italian army during World War I, encounters a nurse whom he almost immediately convinces to sleep with him under the pretense that the war may do away with him at any time. I always find it interesting to look at how films suggest that love-making has occurred. See, for example, Casablanca, when Ilsa visits Rick in his room and a cut transports us from a kissing couple to the same setting seemingly some time later leaving the viewer to question what happened in the interim. In the case of A Farewell to Arms, the subjects lay on an outdoor bench to neck and we cut to Helen Hayes, still lying but with the curls of her hair draped across her face, her clothes slightly mussed. She then endures a moment of slight emotional distress while talking to Cooper.  

     But it is not necessarily this first-night tryst that lands Hayes in a family way. The couple continue their affair and, after Cooper is wounded, have some sort of unofficial marriage ceremony. A priest friend rattles off some nearly silent words in the hospital room leading Cooper to next declare his woman come to him because “it’s his wedding night.” The couple’s actual marital status is questionable, however, as they tell no one of their bond and when the pregnancy pops up, it is given the mask of immorality.  

     Over the years I’ve picked up on some interesting methods for veiling references to sex and pregnancy in dialogue. A Farewell to Arms includes a reference to sex through an inquiry as to whether Hayes was “kind to him practically.” For many years (and again, as I mentioned in These Wilder Years I don’t know when this changed) the word “pregnancy” was taboo on the big screen. The most common references were “having a baby” and if the miracle happened out of wedlock, the girl might be “in trouble.” In this case both are used as, Hayes’ nurse friend tells Cooper not to “get her in trouble.” Hayes later tells the friend she is “having a baby” and is leaving for Switzerland on the Italian border to wait for her man.  

     I am hesitant to analyze the story aspects of this movie as I have not read the novel and can’t confess to know any of his work. The story is a nice love tale, although perhaps not to the extent TCM’s Robert Osborne suggested in his introduction. The sound on this presentation was extremely low and had me upping the volume on my TV to the highest it’s probably ever gone. Additionally, I know Gary Cooper is a great actor, and I would never suggest otherwise, but I’ve noticed in this flick and others there are times when his expression and tone is so emotionless it would be characterized as a terrible performance by anyone else. I should perhaps note, however, that Mr. Cooper is quite young in this film, which is, of course, when he was most handsome. I always find it a welcome surprise to come across one of his earlier films as I’m quite accustomed to the older, yet charming version (See Love in the Afternoon).  

Source: Robert Osborne

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