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Feature: My Momentary Celebrity Obsession–Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino

I stumbled upon Ida Lupino utterly by accident while enjoying Bogart’s They Drive By Night. I was instantly spellbound by this rather unorthodox-looking woman who commanded the screen so significantly. I find it surprising that film history has left the woman rather unremembered considering her supreme talent.

I also rather identify with Lupino. Despite going through the typical blonde phase every newcomer to Hollywood seemed to endure, the woman’s early triumphs were as a dark-haired, scrawny and dark eye-makeup-clad gal, not too far flung from my own physical specifications. Lupino proved that her small body in no way would hinder her ability to give big shows that beat down even the toughest men. Her voice was full of sass in these days, and boy is she a sight to see.

Unfortunately, she often viewed herself as a less desirable alternate to Bette Davis, having also worked at Warner Bros. and often taking the scraps Davis turned down. I do not really see any comparison between the two, however, besides that both often played strong women.

As her career progressed, Lupino aged well into more mature roles that showed little of that small woman of past prowess but still held the same talent always present. Despite her on-screen abilities, Lupino would actually become quite well established in directing television.  She also developed production companies to find talent rather than provide it herself.

Somehow Lupino managed to win no awards over her career of more than 60 acting roles, seven directed pictures, and dozens of television episodes and specials. Perhaps this adds to her obscurity in Hollywood history. One need only watch one of her roles in the 1940s to be taken by her obvious skill. It is a wonder the Academy and others did not see it as well.

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Feature: Movie Posters from Italy

I have noticed through my searching for movie posters to accompany the 150+ movies I’ve blogged about so far that the Italians produced much more appealing posters than the American-created ones. I cannot be sure why this is. Are the Italians more artistic? More risqué?  Or is it just that the look of an Italian movie poster for a picture made in the U.S. is just different than to what we are accustomed? Below are a few examples I’ve stumbled across with the Italian images on the left. If you have spotted any other examples let me know, as I’m likely to come across others requiring a follow-up post down the road.

ITALY vs. AMERICA

Perhaps a semi-nude Rita Hayworth would have been too scandalous for American movie-goers, but this Italian poster for Salome is simply striking not only because of the actress’ gorgeous form, but the color scheme is simply beautiful.If you didn’t know what Dark Victory is about, you might just be confused by the foreign poster, but knowing that the woman faces blindness, that wispy shadow across her eyes is telling versus the expressionless Bette Davis in the American poster.I purchased this Italian version of Funny Face after I was frustrated to find no U.S. version featured the famous “funny face” photograph of Audrey Hepburn that inspires the title song. I was also always disappointed to find that no original poster for Citizen Kane featured the memorable image of Orson Welles standing in front of the picture of himself. Granted the Italian poster does not offer this either, and perhaps it is not your cup of tea, but it’s pretty cool.

Now, there is little difference between these two Chinatown posters but what strikes me the most –and what inspired me to recently purchase the Italian version– is that Faye Dunaway‘s eyes in the clouds are much more vibrant and obvious in the foreign poster.

That Certain Woman

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That Certain Woman (1937)

     That Certain Woman is anything but a standard romance story or even a typical romance that must fight against scandal. Unfortunately, the sheer complexity of this Bette DavisHenry Fonda story really drags the movie down as it becomes increasingly heavy with plot elements and its lack of realistic motives.

     Davis as Mary Donnell, formerly Mrs. Al Haines, gangster, has turner her life around since her husband’s death and works as a secretary to a big shot lawyer with whom she is considerably simpatico. Fonda is Jack Merrick who has been seeing Mary for three years and has just returned from Europe desperate to marry, displaying a supreme passion for the woman. Mary requires Jack to swear off his wealthy father’s support and get a job if she is to agree to the union. Mary’s boss, Lloyd Rogers (Ian Hunter), also a friend of Jack’s, insists on their immediate marriage –Jack’s father be damned– even sharing Mary’s sordid past with her hubby-to-be.

     On the wedding night, however, Jack’s father, played by Donald Crisp, hunts the couple down and expresses outrage that his son has allowed this low-down woman to ensnare him. Seeing that Merrick Sr. is putting up a better fight than her spouse, Mary leaves the hotel and returns to her old flat she shares with roommate Amy (Mary Phillips) and waits for her beau to show up. A year and nine months later, Mary and her son Jackie are still waiting when the mother learns Jack has married another woman in France. Almost immediately thereafter Mary, while at work, discovers that couple is hospitalized after an automobile accident. Lloyd sends his secretary away to rest and deal with the grief and the next we see her it is three years later and she is living in a lavish flat funded by her boss.

     By this point Mary is warming up to Lloyd’s now obvious feelings for her, but she knows he will never fill the void reserved for Jack. When a very ill Lloyd wanders to her apartment and ultimately dies on her sofa, the newspapers are all over the story of a mobster’s wife and her love nest. Reporters also question and imply that Lloyd is the father of young Jackie. Jack now reappears in Mary’s life and is curious about the boy, taking longer than expected to realize it is his son. Jack’s wife was paralyzed in the car accident and is wheelchair-bound, but learning of the son, he is determined to leave her and return to his true love. SPOILER That wife even comes to see Mary and beg she take her husband away for the boy’s sake, but hearing how much this woman loves her husband, Mary refuses. Even worse, she ultimately sends Jackie away to live with that couple just before taking off for Europe. Years later, in Monte Carlo, she learns Jack’s wife has died and he is now on the hunt for her, happy ending for all. END SPOILER

     That Certain Woman contains so much back and forth in Mary’s relationships that it is hard for one to decide what he wants for the woman. From the start, Lloyd seemed like a wonderful suitor for the gal, despite his unhappy marriage. Although eventually the man gets to the point where he has told his wife he wants a divorce and plans to take Mary for himself, Mary refuses to do that to his spouse. She is constantly caught in a position of “the other woman” and despite a cushy lifestyle is never able to establish herself legitimately in the eyes of the press or public. Lloyd may have been funding that home and all in it, but it does not appear Mary was actually conducting an affair with him. By the time we get our happy ending, she has gotten such a run around from Jack that it seems like her baggage is sure to weigh down her life no matter with whom she ends up. Nevermind that despite fighting to keep her son at one point she willingly gives him up, which seems utterly unrealistic.

     The never-ending saga of Mary and Jack’s romance could be doable as stories such as “Wuthering Heights” and “Pride and Prejudice” have proven, but for some reason Lloyd was too appealing and the bond between our protagonists too weak. That is not to say, however, that the acting was not superb. Fonda was really more believable at first as being the one wildly in love, but Davis brings up the rear with her proving of that same fact.

     Fonda is the youngest I have ever seen him in That Certain Woman. His dark hair frames a perfectly youthful face but his performance belies his relative newness to the big screen. He made this flick during his third year in Hollywood; although, he made at least three films during each of those first years, so he already had more than half a dozen under his belt. He was well matched against the excessively talented Davis –who made this her 33rd film– and they made a nice couple on screen.

20,000 Years in Sing Sing

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20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)

     The year was 1932. The Production Code was only starting to strangle the contents of films, Bette Davis was still sporting the platinum blonde look and playing sleazy roles, and Spencer Tracy was kind of young-looking. 20,000 Years in Sing Sing was one of those films that like many of those to come under the iron fist of the Code would have no choice but to punish the criminal, no matter how likeable he was.

     I learned about this code restriction from reading about the struggles Alfred Hitchcock had with several of his films. He often wanted villains or anti-heroes to get of scott free, but the big wigs in the Hayes Office required those who commit a serious crime to be punished for it, whether through the penal system or via suicide. For that reason, several Hitchcock bad guys kill themselves or get a comeuppance the director would rather have avoided.

     In 20,000 Years in Sing Sing we have a criminal serving his time, but he ultimately pays a mortal price for another crime he did not commit. As Tommy Connors, Tracy is some sort of hoodlum with pull in New York, but when he moves into Sing Sing for armed robbery, he is surprised to find his lawyer Joe Finn (Louis Calhern) is unable to secure either a release or at least a comfy stay. When issued an oversized uniform, Connors gets riled and starts throwing his fists around. The warden (Arthur Byron) agrees to let him off on the uniform requirement, allows him to wander around in long underwear, then assigns him to the ice house.

     When a small group of inmates plan an escape, Connors is all for it until he realizes the bust will go down on a Saturday –his jinx. He backs out at the last minute and the plan goes awry, resulting in two dead inmates and one who eventually gets the chair. The warden knows Connors had the option of trying for the escape and their relationship improves knowing he opted not to.

     Throughout his time in prison –a stint of five to 30 years– Connors has been visited by his girlfriend Fay, played by Davis. She has been allowing the lawyer to flirt with her in the hopes she can motivate him to get Connors set free. Fay and lawyer Finn get into a bad car accident and the girl thinks she is going to die. The warden learns of this and allows Connors to go see her provided he return to the prison that night. Connors has every intention of doing so until he runs into Finn at Fay’s place and the two get into a tussle. Fay shoots Finn from her bed but Connors absconds with the weapon. The incident might not have been a problem had not a curious cop been following Connors and heard the whole thing. It takes a couple weeks, but Connors does return to prison, stands trial and is convicted of the crime.

     Tracy gives a great performance. He had a wide range of personalities he could play and did a great job of presenting the tough guy with enough sense to know when to stop fighting. His character undergoes a bit of a transformation away from the arrogance the outside world laid upon him and toward the humble status of an every man no better than the next. Davis, too, gives a swell portrayal of a loyal girlfriend truly in love with her inmate beau. Never have I seen so much smooching in a film from this era. The character was not one we would see Davis play starting a few years hence, but she certainly proves there was no role she could not master.

  • 20,000 Years in Sing Sing is set for 12:45 p.m. ET Aug. 3 on TCM.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

CMBA Movies of 1939 Blogathon: The Old Maid

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The Old Maid (1939)

     1939 was a major year for films and not a bad one for Bette Davis either. She might not have landed the much coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, also to be released that year, but she was busy with two other projects. Dark Victory would stand up as one of the greatest roles of her career –an Oscar-nominated one– but Davis would also go head to head with Miriam Hopkins –off screen that is– for The Old Maid.
 
     Hopkins’ Delia is preparing to wed Jim (James Stephenson) right at the start of the Civil War, but her ex-fiance Clem (George Brent) shows up and is horribly heartbroken by the goings on. Thankfully Davis’ Charlotte, as the cousin, eases his pain and sends him away to die in the war. Now stuck with an illegitimate child, Charlotte starts a home for war orphans, her daughter Tina hid among them. Delia invites the two to live in her mansion and raises Tina as her child while the girl refers to her actual mother as Aunt Charlotte. Fifteen years later, Tina is ready to marry a man of stature, so Delia officially adopts her to give the girl a proper background, which causes turmoil with Charlotte who must decide whether to reveal the truth of the girl’s origins.
 
     I do not know a whole lot about Hopkins, but I can see how she might have been a pill off-screen. Davis, as we know, was far worse. She could make enemies of the best people. Davis was once quoted as saying:
“Miriam is a perfectly charming woman socially. Working with her is another story. On the first day of shooting, for instance, she arrived on the set wearing a complete replica of one of my Jezebel costumes. It was obvious she wanted me to blow my stack at this.”
Davis said she ignored the incidence but that the mounting tricks of her costar took their toll and she would explode when returning home at night. Davis also said Hopkins liked to interrupt any time the star had a difficult speech, once requiring Davis to make 20 takes of one scene. During one day of shooting, Davis fainted and was sent home where she remained for the following two days, at which point Hopkins decided she was also sick and headed home. The two would be reteamed in Old Acquaintance when they would play competing writers.
 
     At one point there was also some trouble relating to Hopkins’ makeup that got Director Edmund Goulding involved. Goulding had noticed the star was coming onto the set appearing younger each day. Executive Producer Hal Wallis ordered the makeup man to stick to the makeup design originally approved. Davis’ makeup, on the other hand, managed to age her character convincingly and with little effort. The older Charlotte simply lacks eye makeup and lipstick and was given an ashen powder as foundation. The awful hairdo completes the effect. Bette’s figure, however, remained youthful in the form-fitting costumes masterfully designed by Orry-Kelly.
 
     Performance-wise Davis wins the battle. Hopkins brings plenty of energy to her roles, but I think she over does them a bit and fails to give the natural performances Davis did in all her work, which makes one think she must be just like her characters off-screen, no matter how diverse her repertoire. Like Dark Victory, The Old Maid also features Brent, and he also disappoints here with his empty, unexpressive eyes. The annoyance is not for long, however, as the part is fleeting. The film itself certainly does not stand well against Dark Victory as it is a bit melodramatic at times in its story. Davis, however, never gave a bad performance, so there is no real threat of disappointment with The Old Maid.
 
Please check out the other participating posts for the Classic Movie Blog Association-sponsored blogathon surrounding the movies of 1939.
  • The Old Maid is set for 8 p.m. Aug. 3 on TCM.

Source: Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis by Ed Sikov; Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine; TCM.com

The Corn is Green

Ring a Ding Ding

The Corn is Green (1945)

     Someone said to me recently that Bette Davis never made a bad movie, and as I move further into her repertoire, I am inclined to agree. Even a movie with such an uninteresting title as The Corn is Green (which, of course, has its source in something said/written in the story) is a great piece of work. Unfortunately, audiences did not flock to see the film at the time.

     A now 37-year-old Davis assumes the part of a spinster school teacher in The Corn is Green. Her character moves into a mining town in Wales in 1895 after inheriting a home and some property, which she intends to transform into a school. The trouble is, children are sent to work in the mines at age 12, so Davis’ Miss Moffat must fight the powers that be to have children attend. She stumbles upon a particularly bright teenager who has a flair for writing, even if his grammar and spelling are foul. She works with Morgan (John Dall) individually as the school becomes progressively more popular, but when she pushes him too hard, Morgan returns to the mines.

     Also in the mix is Miss Moffat’s housekeeper’s daughter, who can only be described as an unruly tramp. Not only is she generally disrespectful to all adults (her mother confesses to never liking the girl) but she seduces Morgan, which later results in the forthcoming of “a little stranger.” By this point, Morgan has returned to school and nervously sits for a written admission test to Oxford. Miss Moffat manages to silence the pregnant Bessie (Joan Lorring) by sending her away and paying to support her. A glamorous Bessie –hellbent on stirring trouble– returns just as Morgan arrives home from an interview with the university and learns of his acceptance. 

     Based on a play of the same name, Davis took up a role occupied by Ethel Barrymore on the stage.  The story could have been thoroughly heartwarming and interesting if it had only focused on Miss Moffat, Morgan and the school. Instead, the plot adds the additional element of Bessie. The young woman gives a sharp performance as a girl who has developed an antisocial mind of her own. Dall is absolutely splendid as Morgan. His amusing accent and good looks add to the pleasure of watching him so perfectly convey the natural emotions and reactions a young man in his position would endure. Both Lorring and Dall received supporting role Oscar nominations. Despite pressure from Warner Bros., Davis failed to receive a nomination from the Academy.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

Ring a Ding Ding

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)

     Although made in 1982, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid could be claimed as 50% classic film. The Steve Martin spoof on old detective dramas uses footage from about a dozen black-and-white movies spliced in with new footage. I first saw this movie in an Intro to Film course and fell in love. It’s full of Martin’s early stupid humor while also showing a real appreciation for old Hollywood.

     Martin is Detective Rigby Reardon, who is approached by Rachel Ward‘s Juliet Forrest to investigate the murder of her father, a scientist and cheese enthusiast. The plot that follows is inconsequential as it is as complex as The Big Sleep –clips of which are used throughout– and is neatly summed up by both the villain and Reardon at the end of the picture, ala The Thin Man and other mysteries.

     Rigby’s mentor is Marlowe, with whom the protagonist consults primarily via telephone, and who is played by Humphrey Bogart in segments from three of his films. The detective also pays visits to several familiar faces, such as Ray Milland in a snippet from The Lost Weekend, Bette Davis in Deception, Cary Grant in Suspicion, Ingrid Bergman in Notorious and Joan Crawford in Humoresque, among others. Martin also dresses in drag to attract the attention of Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. The unsettling part is, from behind, there is little difference between Martin and Barbara Stanwyck from the original clips. Martin again dons a dress to masquerade as James Cagney’s mother from White Heat.

     Writers on the movie George Gipe, Director Carl Reiner and Martin developed the story based on the classic clips. The idea came from one designed by Martin that proposed the use of a classic movie clip. That concept transformed into doing an entire movie using such pieces. After watching old films and pulling particular over-the-shoulder shots and appealing dialogue, the writers then merely juxtaposed the dialogue until they came up with a suitable story. Some clips were clearly used just as an excuse to insert them and do not actually further the plot, but are funny nonetheless.

     Although the cinematographer consulted the filming styles from the old flicks, Martin avoided them altogether. He said he did not want to give a performance reflective of Bogart but something of his own. The result was great as I do not think Martin would have been as funny if he had taken himself more seriously.

     As someone who enjoys both Steve Martin humor and classic films, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is just the epitome of fun for me. I was not familiar with all of the movies featured therein, but I certainly enjoyed figuring out the ones I did know. Thankfully the end credits spell it out for the viewer.

Source: Universal Studios

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