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Feature: Guess that Poster 2013

It’s that time of year again: time for a new banner for the website. Can you figure out from which 1932 movie the poster cross section in the header is derived? This is again not an easy one and is cut from a horizontal poster or perhaps lobby card for the flick. As for hints, it features my favorite actor and an actress who was quite famous on the stage as well as screen. Although I found this movie to be a bit strange in its story of love and prostitution to keep one’s husband alive, the poster is quite captivating.

If you have a guess, click “comments” below or fill in the box. I’ll reveal the answer in a week or two and share the full poster for comparison.

For a reminder of past banner challenges, see the 2012 and 2011 versions. For more movie poster-centric posts and quizzes go HERE.

AND THE ANSWER IS… Continue reading

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Ladies They Talk About

Dullsville

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

Prison sure was different in the 1930s. Sure, men still had cells with bars on them and bunk beds within, and apparently marched everywhere they went, but for women, the penitentiary was like a mini community but one from which you could not leave. In Ladies They Talk About we get a surprising look at what imprisonment meant for female offenders. Barbara Stanwyck spends most of the story behind bars after assisting a bank robbery for a load of gangsters.

Stanwyck’s Nan Taylor could have fought to maintain her innocence in the crime, but a man from her home town –now a big-time political preacher in the big city– falls for her. Their kiss inspires Nan to tell David Slade (Preston Foster) the truth about the robbery, which he finds staggeringly upsetting. She therefore admits her crime to the district attorney and away for two to five years she goes.

In the clink she gives up her fur and fine dress for a plain frock, although not a uniform. The women in here have made themselves a comfortable lifestyle, complete with beauty shop services, rocking chairs and a socialite with a lap dog. The cells are private apartments with windowless doors, which the girls have adorned with photos of their favorite celebrities. Nan keeps a picture of Slade to remind her of the hatred she feels for him. Her newly found arch enemy inside, however, keeps several photos of the man out of adoration.

Nan refuses to see Slade, who writes to her regularly and stops by every visiting day. Around the same time she learns that the man is actually trying to help her get an early release, she has also been contacted by her former partner in crime, Lefty (Harold Huber). Two other members of the gang have been pinched and reside in the men’s prison on the other side of Nan’s wall. They have a plan to dig their way out, with her help.

Upon seeing Slade for the first time, Nan allows for the reestablishment of their romance and slips a letter to Lefty into the man’s pocket. Slade later finds the note and drops it into the mail. But Lefty is in local lock-up and his forwarded letter gets opened by the warden, who then traces it back to Nan. She assumes Slade ratted on her.

Ladies They Talk About is interesting to the degree it shows some version of life inside a women’s prison. On the other hand, however, it tries to drive some sort of romantic yarn through the plot even though Stanwyck’s character has shown only loathing or tolerance for the man who unreasonably adores her. Stanwyck’s performance is lack-luster. At the start she shows shades of bad acting in instances when Nan is herself putting on a show for the authorities. This is nevertheless frustrating to watch.

None of the other characters offer anything special. Foster is milquetoast and oft-criminal Huber is in so few scenes as to make his presence nearly unnoticeable. Dorothy Burgess as Susie –the Slade-lover, Nan-hater– attracts some degree of interest. She looks like a less interesting Tallulah Bankhead and is as obnoxious as she is meant to be.

There are plenty of other flicks in which to see Stanwyck playing the hard-boiled blonde or brunette and/or the sex pot, but Ladies They Talk About should not be sought out for that reason. Sit down with Baby Face instead.

  • Ladies They Talk About is set for 2:15 p.m. ET Dec. 20 on TCM.

Beware, My Lovely

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Beware, My Lovely (1952)

     Thrillers are my favorite type of fright movie, at least as I define them. They contain no gore, no monsters, just a horribly unnerving situation that sets one’s heart pounding as she perches on the edge of her seat. Beware, My Lovely is not only nerve-wracking but also visually well constructed and supported by fine performances.

     That great dramatic actress Ida Lupino will fall captive to the slightly split personality of Robert Ryan‘s handyman, but before we get there, the movie opens on Ryan completing some chores about a house, all the while calling for the woman owner to inform her of his work’s completion. He opens a closet and sees we know not what before running out the door. A moment later a shot of a bucket overflowing with a faucet’s water also lends to a peek into the closet where an open-eyed woman lies on the floor, blinking once. The man runs endlessly before hopping a moving train and speeding out of town.

     We now meet widow Helen Gordon (Lupino), who is struggling to clean up her home where she offers piano lessons. Children leave her house as does a boarder who is to be gone for two weeks. With his departure comes Ryan as Howard Wilton, whom Helen has hired the day prior to clean the residence. All seems fine at the start, but Howard clearly does not like the look of himself in the mirror, especially in comparison to a photo of Helen’s husband in his military uniform. He is especially set off when Helen’s niece (Barbara Whiting) gives him grief, and he locks the door after she leaves, pocketing the key. He is paranoid about whether Helen is happy with his work, and the woman, despite the man’s obvious issues, reassures him and is friendly, at least until she realizes she has been locked in the house.

     As Howard reveals that he has memory lapses that allow him to, for instance, forget where it is he is currently living or that he has hurt someone, finding a body later, Helen realizes the extent of her danger. She verbally tiptoes around the man so as not to increase his anger. Howard eventually rips the telephone from the wall and shuts Helen in the cellar while he shoos away her piano students, who are too young to know anything is wrong. The stress escalates as we worry Howard might force himself on her or worse. In the end it is Howard himself who frees Helen, but the conclusion holds one final stress for the audience.

     The story has similar themes to the later Die! Die! My Darling in which crazy old Tallulah Bankhead‘s character holds her dead son’s wife captive in her rural English home as a mentally handicapped farm hand and butch maid help. In that version, however, the captive was much more aggressive in her attempts to escape. Lupino, however, could not seem to raise her voice above a whisper when shouting out windows for help from a house situated in the middle of town. She breaks a window at one point, but only to whisper for help, not to crawl through. Helen also makes no consideration of climbing out an upstairs window, as would be my instinct. The time period is 1919, however, and Lupino’s character is older than Stefanie Powers‘ in Die! Die! My Darling, perhaps making it less logical for her to be running, climbing and forcing her way from the home.

    Both Lupino and Ryan were fantastic in Beware, My Lovely. Lupino is restrained in her performance of fear and never over does it. Although I think her Helen behaved naively at the start of Howard’s show of a personality disorder, she certainly grew into the physically strained woman thinking that death is around the corner. Ryan does a great job of playing both a rather regular Joe and a man with subtle and more obvious problems. His psychosis grows and subsides with the movement of the story so that we can never be sure what he is capable of or how severe his next reaction will be. Beware, My Lovely was a great Halloween season nail-biter that proves how unnecessary gore and violence are in a frightful flick.

Hitchcock Blogathon #6: Lifeboat

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Lifeboat (1944)

     I recal when the contemporary Phone Booth came out a few years ago, many viewers complained that the entire movie takes place in that dang phone booth. Jump back about 60 years and Hitchcock gave us a masterpiece that persists entirely in a Lifeboat.

     Starting after an explosion when a ship and U-boat sink each other, we meet the various characters as they clamor into a lifeboat. The 10 characters represent all walks of life. From a glamorous reporter in Tallulah Bankhead, to a distraught mother whose baby dies, a sailor with a gangrenous leg, and a Nazi soldier. The German character presents the conflict in the story as the other passengers are unsure if he can be trusted. Indeed, he is hiding a flask of water and compass and will lead the boat towards a Nazi vessel. The characters are all very different, and what starts out as a good-natured jaunt turns into tense hatred among the characters as rations dwindle and exhaustion sets in.

     The story is credited to John Steinbeck who wrote a novelette for Hitchcock of which the director was not too fond. Like most Hitchcock films, the story would be worked on my multiple parties but only one or two would be credited on screen. In this case, Steinbeck got the billing even though studio writer Jo Swerling wrote the screenplay, relying minimally on the novelette. After a year of writing and casting, trouble started with the Office of War Information. Officials said the story offered the depiction of Americans the Nazi propagandists like to promote and the German character is the only hero. Yet somehow Hitchcock’s script survived and was nominated for Best Screenplay (in addition to Best Cinematography and Best Director).

     Bankhead, who was famous for her stage work but had done notoriously poor in films, was Hitchcock’s ideal actress for the role of Connie Porter. The character was developed with bits of Bankhead’s personality, although not the part the cast and crew saw on the set. Apparently adverse to undergarments, Bankhead often lifted her skirt or spread her legs on screen and off, disconcerting crew members and cameramen. Hitchcock’s response to complaints was: “This is not for me to handle. We shall call the hairdresser.”

The MacGuffin: Given the entire motivation of the story is survival, there is no MacGuffin propelling the plot.

Where’s Hitch? With the action confined to a boat, Hitchcock clearly could not just walk by to make his cameo appearance. Instead, he appears in an ad for a weight-loss product, complete with before and after shots of the director who around the time had lost significant weight.

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

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

Die! Die! My Darling

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Die! Die! My Darling (1965)

     Tallulah Bankhead was always a bit on the freaky-looking side, but the once-seductive standby of 1930s cinema drops the glamor act for a twisted turn as a psychotic hostage-taker in 1965’s Die! Die! My Darling. This is my second experience with the film. I’m not sure how Ryan and I decided upon it a year ago, but I sure was thrilled to see it back on TCM’s schedule.

     A 63-year-old Bankhead plays the mother of Stefanie Powers‘ deceased ex-fiance. She resides in some country area of England, and Powers’ character opts to visit the woman while traveling with her new fiance. A supremely pious Bankhead keeps the woman for dinner, but only after she endures several hours of religious service. The meal that follows is one that could best be described as gruel (no salt or condiments allowed). Given the late hour, Powers spends the night and in the morning is chastised for her red sweater, that being the devil’s hue, you know.

     When Powers finally gets fed up with the religious restrictions and continual critique from Bankhead about her purity, she starts to pack her things only to be locked in the bedroom. Breaking the window with a chair, she is then confronted by Bankhead who aims a small pistol at the woman. Up to a third-story room Powers goes, and there she stays.

     Bankhead’s twisted motivation here is concern that any sin on Powers’ part will affect her dead son’s standing in the afterlife. Mysteries remain in the story behind the “strange way he died” and what Bankhead has in the basement.

     Kidnapping movies set me on edge particularly when the confinement takes place in a home or location not far removed from everyday civilization. A great amount of frustration goes into the idea that someone has to find the hostage eventually even as that fate continues to evade us in the plot. Die! Die! My Darling also led me to realize how eerie third stories are in houses. Especially in this context, the idea that a room is that much farther away from the ground floor — making any calls for help more unlikely to reach the ears of a potential savior — is worrisome yet terribly ideal for the villain. I find kidnapping films equally frightening in that they are often constructed as truly plausible situations. If you can find the right psycho, you too might be locked away, beaten and starved.

     Adding to the fun of Die! Die! My Darling is the casting of a young Donald Sutherland as a mentally disabled groundskeeper of sorts. The pale, toe-headed character makes for many a frustrating and shocking moment in the film.

     By the way, this flick is set for a Nov. 5 showing on TCM. It’s definitely worth a watch.

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