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4th Stretching-the-Meaning-of-“Annual” One Woman Film Festival

2 Nov

keaton-sherlock_opt…since clearly the 3rd Annual took place a week before.

Regardless, that Sunday there we were, around 9:30am this time until, say, 10:00pm? (We all had an early Monday ahead of us). The slate, formed over the course of the day, was:

The Lady Eve (1941);

Sherlock, Jr. (1924);

Citizen Kane (1940);

La Belle et la Bête (1946);

Twentieth Century (1934);

and This is Spinal Tap (1984).

Some heavy hitters here, obviously, a couple of them by request, as we asked our friend if there were any omissions in her previous viewing career that she regretted. She said Citizen Kane almost immediately. The other, This is Spinal Tap, we knew from the conversation that led to her being invited for this event in the first place.

The other selections made the list because we knew of her love of romantic comedy. She isn’t one of those “I’ve never seen an old movie” people by any means, but again, we all have voids in our movie lives. (My own are numerous and daunting.) This gave us somewhere to begin – Sturges provides some of the first really intelligent American romantic comedy, “Beauty and the Beast” is the archetype on which almost all of them are based (being one of the few fairy tales wherein getting to know each other is even part of the plot), and Twentieth Century is kind of unjustly neglected. Sherlock, Jr. is in there because there’s just going to be some Keaton, Lloyd or Chaplin at all of these.

Most of these are well-documented, at this blog or elsewhere, so again, a few little thoughts, and then some surprising connections we noticed.


ladyeve2The Lady Eve:

-Such a thing of beauty, yet no matter how many times I see it, I just sort of forget the second half. Not in a bad way – it’s just that shorthand for this movie in my head is “them on the ship” and the rest is still fresh and surprising as I watch. Again;

-It’s Stanwyck’s movie in many ways (though my love for Charles Coburn grows as I age) but Henry Fonda is funny. Who knew, right? Again, still always surprising;

“Tell him to go peel an eel!” The eel that won for Yeel?

keaton sherlock5Sherlock, Jr.:

-Previous post here;

-Our friend’s reaction to her first Keaton was characterized by a general sort of repeated, amazed, “I really like this!” as if a world had been opened. We’ll pressure her into more, I’m sure.

sscitizenkane7Citizen Kane:

-Poor Susan. That shot from her terrified, heavily made up face being barked at by her voice teacher through the stagehands in the flies and their nose-pinching review is so painful, no less so when Welles shows half of it again!;

-Like Coburn, my love for Cotton’s performance as Elderly Jed (“Sloppy Joe’s?”) continues to intensify with age. It’s so broad on one hand and so how-that-guy-would-be-around-strangers-years-later on the other. Brilliant;

-Is the second half of Kane’s life an attempt to recapture the night he met Susan (which is also the night his mother’s death was made real by all her belongings showing up in town)? She sang for him, he almost told her the Rosebud story – you can see it – things were good again for a couple of hours. He tries to make her keep singing, as if to prolong it in some weird public way, or to share that feeling with the world if you’re feeling more generously disposed toward his motives. She shouts “You never gave me anything that belongs to you, anything you care about!” He finds the snow globe after she leaves. I like to think he spends much of the rest of his Xanadu-doddering life digging through the uninventoried boxes looking for that damn Rosebud thing…

la belle et la bête<br /><br /><br />
1945<br /><br /><br />
réal : Jean Cocteau<br /><br /><br />
Josette Day</p><br /><br />
<p>collection christophelLa Belle et la Bête:

-What a thing of beauty. Unnecessary to write about, because it’s so clear and has such depth, yet so little explanation of anything, even basic geography or physics, that people frequently seem to demand (foolishly, I’d argue) in their storytelling. “None of that is the point! Just pay attention!” “Why does he even keep the horse if he could use the gloves?” “You are asking the wrong questions!”

-Josette Day. My Word. La Belle.

1934-twentieth-century-lombard-barrymore-2Twentieth Century:

Immediately another Beauty and the Beast story, except with two beasts, whose coupling at least saves other people from them;

-I haven’t threatened to close the iron door on nearly enough people lately;

-Also, Barrymore’s hair in this is one of the few things that make me regret baldness.

Spinal TapThis is Spinal Tap:

-This is one of those generational things I suppose, but I’ve seen this so many times that I scarcely need to watch it anymore, and yet, like Young Frankenstein. for example, it’s one of the rare comedies that doesn’t dry up once you know its jokes – the execution is so perfect that it becomes like rewatching some perfect double play but one that unfolds for ninety minutes;

-It was late in the game that I tracked the drummer names alongside the names of replacement Three Stooges. There are always more jokes here than you think.

And, of course…


Annex - Welles, Orson (Citizen Kane)_03What the hell, beyond the aforementioned “Beauty and the Beast” threads, do the above have in common? Well, for starters:

Swindlers, misdirection and stage magic pervade (The Lady Eve, Sherlock Jr., Citizen Kane, La Belle et la Bête) along with differently failed attempts at same (Twentieth Century, This is Spinal Tap – particularly “Rock & Roll Creation, I think);

Doubles, twins and reflections abound, from the obvious (The Lady Eve, Sherlock Jr., La Belle et la Bête) to the less so (the mirrors of Citizen Kane, the “none more black” album cover in This is Spinal Tap);

Bursting Spheres, from Kane’s snow globe to Buster’s 13 ball to Eve’s metaphorical social-sphere-busting from class to class. An argument could even be made for a certain green globule of a former drummer;

High-dollar checks are torn (or apparently torn) to bits (The Lady Eve, Citizen Kane, Twentieth Century), a gesture sort of lost in this debit card/PayPal era. Angelica Houston has the good sense to hang on to her Stonehenge payment;

Major plot unfoldings on a train (The Lady Eve, Twentieth Century) could just  be chalked up to the period, but were still unplanned by the programmers;

Ushers apparently once brought the flowers down to the stage apron on opening night (Citizen Kane, Twentieth Century) – you get nice treatment when you don’t have armadillos in your trousers;

Mysterious castles with huge fireplaces, long hallways and broken skylights bumped nicely together in our Citizen Kane/La Belle et la Bête double feature (we’ll throw This is Spinal Tap in there for hallways as well – under the Xanadu (!!!) Star Theater – “Hello, Cleveland!”);

Women used to ride sidesaddle (The Lady Eve, La Belle et la Bête);

and Sticky papers make good comedy (Sherlock Jr., Twentieth Century).


And for the record, the menu involved our guest’s homemade pumpkin bread, some sort of fancy coffee (I don’t know – I’m a tea drinker), butternut squash chowder, and again with the Chinese takeout. No Manhattans this week – the cocktail turned out to be, thanks to the acquisition of some green chartreuse, the festival-appropriate Bijou, which I highly recommend.

There probably won’t be another of these festivals for a while – I’m involved in a show this month and starting a long process on two others throughout December-February. This blog may slow a bit, but it will not stop, so the five people who read this thing need not fear.


3rd Annual (or whenever) One Woman Film Festival report…

25 Oct

Probably this is not a festival you’re familiar with. It’s kind of exclusive. To wit:

redcarpetThe Wife and I invite a friend over to hang out in pyjamas all day one Sunday and watch movies. Said movies are curated in that a) it’s a trendy word and b) we put together a loose list that acts as kind of a mood-flexible flowchart (e.g., Stage Door can lead to Sunday in New York (young woman in the city) which in this case it did, but also potentially to The Great Garrick (backstage tales made in the 1930s), Baby Face (a very different sort of young woman in the city tale) or Vivacious Lady (more Ginger Rogers) which in this case it did not. Because we all liked the sound of Sunday in New York this time.

We’ve only done this twice before. Once was a double feature and was in no way organized. Next came another friend who watched three, maybe four with us in a semi-organized fashion. Then, this past Sunday, shit, as they say, got real.

A dear friend is moving to a fancy NYC job very soon. So we had her over at last for her One Woman Film Festival.

(Gender Note: there is no particular reason for excluding men from being invited. The proportion of our friends who would even want to do this are just overwhelmingly female.)

11am-2am. Fifteen hours. The slate, as it turned out:

The More the Merrier (1943);

Stage Door (1937);

Sunday in New York (1963);

The Apartment (1960);

From Hand to Mouth (1919);

His Girl Friday (1940);

and Theodora Goes Wild (1936).

I think the themes are clear. Rather than summarize these, follow the links for synopses or previous posts if they are by chance unfamiliar. I’m going to focus on the accidental connections that showed up, and then share a few group thoughts on each offering in the context of this festive day.


The-More-The-Merrier-1943-3The More the Merrier:

Surprisingly erotic, this one, considering the presence of Charles Coburn, not usually a diapered cupid;

-This is one I should be throwing out more often in future Comedy vs. Drama arguments, because the craft on display here all around is at the highest possible level;

A really good Doff in this one by the man from the newspaper;

-This may also feature the most plausible floor show in classic film.

stage-Door)_01-788209Stage Door:

-Previous Post here;

I love the pace of this style, and yet fascinated by how Hepburn work in the middle, in-but-not-of the style;

-The fallacy of personal-tragedy-equals-Acting! bugs me as much as the equivalent buffoon-becomes-comic-genius trope – Almost Never True!;

-This is where the day’s conversations about women from pre-WWII into the mid-60s, dealing with the workforce changes of that era. We don’t jut sit around eating lentil soup and giggling, you know. We’re pretty high-toned.

sunday in nySunday in New York:

-Previous post here;

-Peter Nero is no Chico Marx, nor is he Henry Mancini – it can be tough to deal with a sex farce when it has a Charlie Brown score;

apart1The Apartment:

-This has been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it in, I suppose, high school, but it’s even more so with age and life experience. The Robinson Crusoe speech brought a few tears this time, because I have become a total sap;

-No one blinks in unwilling disbelief like Shirley Maclaine;

-I think this movie is why I take my hat off in elevators, but not why I wear a hat;

-Santa Otis Campbell IS the face of urban decadence.

from hand to mouth lloydFrom Hand to Mouth:

-Oh, for the days when bikes and cars differed little in speed;

-This was a lucky one – it’s an early Lloyd and the sort of slapsticky thing that doesn’t always work for guests, but ours enjoyed it so she’ll surely like the really good later ones;

-Next to Keaton’s Cops, one the better uses of a silent comic hero’s tendency to be a police magnet.

his girl fridHis Girl Friday;

Besides the connections below, there was much talk about the careers of John Qualen and Cliff Edwards. I beg of you: ponder them.

theodoraTheodora Goes Wild:

-Previous Irene Dunne post here;

-This one just sort of washed over us all, exhausted, film-weary, and all with some experience with small town New England – simple pleasure, though there are always social depths to dive into another time.


And now the fun part…


apatmentI mean, clearly, yes, young woman comes from small town (New York believes all other places are small towns) to find housing, work, and human connection. This hovers around all of the above-named movies.

But the ways in which political machinations get in the way of people’s lives (Theodora Goes Wild, The More the Merrier, His Girl Friday) was unexpected. As were the mores of boys  and girls being left alone in apartments (pretty much all of them bring this up except the Harold Lloyd). These are odd, but not shocking.

But there were many surprising little synchronicities, like:

two consecutive unexpected appearances by Grady Sutton (The More the Merrier, Stage Door);

two rakish bowler hat (Snub Pollard and Jack Lemmon);

something we called “Sleazeball Gets a Shoeshine” (Menjou in Stage Door, Macmurray in The Apartment);

Lady Buys a $12 Hat (Arthur in The More the Merrier, Russell in His Girl Friday, and Theodora bought a LOT of hats, so surely one of them);

Take Off Those Wet Clothes, Mister (Sunday in New York, His Girl Friday);

Counterfeit money (From Hand to Mouth, His Girl Friday);

Apartment 2B (The More the Merrier and Dr. & Mrs. Dreyfus in The Aparment);

people just had spare toothbrushes and bathrobes around in the 60s (The Apartment, Sunday in New York);

Albany Sucks + a failed fiancée refuses a civil drink (His Girl Friday, Sunday in New York);

Women jumping out of windows (His Girl Friday, Stage Door, and brought up in The Apartment);

and, strangely, the literal pratfall, which is to say a very specific slip-on-wet-surface-and-slide-onto-keister in at least four, though my notes are unclear. There were, naturally, Manhattans.

Dilatory Avuncularity: A Night at the Opera (1935)

19 Oct

Annex - Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera)_01Yes, yes it has been almost a month. I’ve been building a show, doing some Big Life Decision deciding, and cutting Hamlet down to ninety minutes. So I have plenty of excuses.

I’ve also been daunted by the DVR – while TCM has been showing some terrific stuff, much of it silent and/or foreign, thanks to the otherwise-not-my-cuppa that is The Story of Film: An Odyssey, I’ve been exhausted into a comforting-and-stupid stupor to the point that it’s been difficult to muster up the focus required to engage with such high art. And we finished all the Torchy Blanes.

But I realized that I failed to report on one last entry in the Avuncularity Excursion – The Nephews’ viewing of A Night at the Opera.

The enjoyed themselves, though they weren’t as frantically, viscerally excited as I was back in the days of my first Marx viewings. Or theirs.

A year ago or so, I showed them Duck Soup in conjunction with The Blues Brothers (I got parental dispensation; they’ve heard worse from their grandmother) – they noticed connections between the two I had never thought to attend to: not just all the “hi-de-hos,” but the pilings-of-furniture-to-block-doors and the endless cavalry approaches of the climax (though the authorities are after the Blueses and aiding the Marxes), to the point where we all left the evening fairly certain that the creators of one had spent a good amount of time watching the creations of the other.

But Opera has an important element (that I never minded) that clearly registers differently with different people – opera. Clearly there was much focus to be regained after Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle did the things they do, which are resoundingly (you should pardon) Not the Funny Part.

Fortunately there is a stateroom to pack, some remarkably false beards to dampen, an apartment to rotate (for the record, they laughed harder here than at the stateroom), an orchestra to destroy (they both play in the school band now, so this particular bit of Marxian Decorum Arson resonated) and some Keaton gags to recycle marvelously in the wings and flies of a performance of Il Trovatore, so the movie-style high-culture didn’t get in our way too much.

Also a surprise hit: the very fact of the visual of Groucho and Ruman in each other’s suits. And they’re right. It’s funny.

gottlieb night at the opera

NB: Watch this space in the coming weeks as I a) return to semi-regular blogging and b) report on a pair of One-Woman Film Festivals to be hosted by The Wife and I for a couple of friends of ours. What does that mean? The next post will make it clearer, no doubt…

I’ve Got Your Number (1934), technology, & working girls

17 Sep

ivegotyournumber1Despite my about-to-be-made-evident pleasure in watching I’ve Got Your Number (another DVR leftover from TCM’s Glenda Farrell day in late August), I will make no claims to its greatness or breaking of ground; only to its non-murderous hard-boiled Warner Brothers glories and its unwitting tribute to a now non-existent segment of what is still a giant industry.

The last time I had my telephone repaired, a teenager in a polo shirt and ill-fitting khakis took money from me after I handed him a now useless piece of wastefully-constructed and fragile plastic and he handed me an identical but at least temporarily useful piece of otherwise identical plastic. He then reminded me to go to the online survey mentioned on my receipt, which would help “them” (still not sure who “them” is) make my experience better.

Sidestepping the nonsense of that statement, I should here note that at no point in that or any exchange in that kid’s day(s) as a telecommunications expert was a millionaire saved from electrocution by a lineman played by Pat O’Brien. Nor was fraudulent medium Glenda Farrell exposed via a telephone repair call, then taken out to a nightclub by Allen Jenkins. Nor did a gang of gangster swindlers use switchboard operator Joan Blondell to…do anything, because a switchboard operator? A lineman? There are precious few.

ivegotyournumber2My father has a big box of conical glass insulators from telephone poles (as seen above) in the basement, next to the spittoon and the four-sided stovetop toaster. Pretty sure those oddly beautiful little functional items are no longer standard issue.

And without insulting the importance of this by understating, I should just say that keener historians than I have written much on the subject of the place of the switchboard operator in the history of women’s employment. It was a huge job opportunity – huge – underpaid and as strict as a chain gang, but neither a schoolroom nor a kitchen. Obviously its restrictions had either loosened up a bit by the 1930s or the sauciness of your Warner Brothers dames was just not constrainable by any natural force. But clearly a gal had to keep an eye on the hotel switchboard and not get distracted by some friendly pan with pomaded hair or her time among the employed was in for a wow finish. Or words to that effect.

(There are also elevator operators in this, with the clicky-thing they used as a signal. That’s long gone. We watched The Thomas Crown Affair recently, about which more soon, and there was one there too, so they lasted at least until 1968 Boston. There are pay phones in that one, too.)

I don’t bemoan all technologies when they pass – probably it’s better that cell phones provide little opportunity to electrocute (though too many buffoons use them at gas pumps). I don’t even entirely bemoan the loss of some human jobs, supporting as I do a Buckminster Fuller/ Vonnegutian “fart around” worldview.

But I do regret that we’re rapidly losing the collective memory of how this technology affects and affected the daily lives of those who used it. And I don’t mean BuzzFeed posts about what video game controllers looked like when I was a kid. I mean things like this.

ivegotyournumber3(It’s also worth noting that we once lived in a world where Pat O’Brien could be a successful romantic lead. Ponder that.)

Smart Blonde (1937) & Kansas City Princess (1934)

2 Sep

torchy blaneOne may quote the sort of easy bumper sticker feminism thing about Ginger-backwards-in-heels if one likes, but I suggest (humbly) that it’s way more impressive to board a moving train in a mid-calf skirt, as Glenda Farrell does at the beginning of Smart Blonde, the first of the Torchy Blane movies.

Last week brought a Glenda Farrell Day to the tail end of TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” which means all seven of her Torchy Blane (say that name out loud as many times as you can – its entertainment does not stop) outings are nestled comfortably on our DVR.

Like all the best of the genre, the Torchy Blanes mean a tight-but-standard mystery plot (impressions taken off of notepads, questions over numbers of bullets in revolvers, amateurs who are inevitably right and police detectives who are inevitably wrong) buoyed by snappy comebacks and the fun quirks of our side characters. Think not-so-good-as-Thin-Man-but-still-no-slouch.

For example, I watched this yesterday and can barely recount Clue #1 regarding the murder, but can quote swaths of the love/hate/peevish/peckish flirtations of Torchy & Det. Lt. McBride (Barton McLane) and the general 1930s-Warner-Brothers-ness of every other exchange (including the rapid fire telephone salutation that’s already a household favorite: “Maxie? Torchy Blane!”). Add the dimwitted cheerfulness of Det. Gahagan (possibly the best character in any such franchise, recurring or otherwise) and a splendid Doff (in quotes, no less) from a very young Jane Wyman and the reasons for my love of this little eight-minute egg of a movie is clear.

“You don’t understand – I’m Torchy Blane!” (weird hand gesture)

“I don’t care if you’re flaming youth.”

(Irritated facial expression of Dame being shut out by Oaf.)

k c princessThe other Farrell we watched in the heat-avoidance this weekend was Kansas City Princess, the basic stats of which read like a me-pleasing textbook case: 1930s Joan Blondell (check, and frankly you can stop the checklist already with that) and Glenda Farrell (check) are manicurists/roommates (low-end career gals of the Depression on the go – check), one seeking romance with a two-bit thug (played for comedy – check), the other an unrepentant gold digger (“Girl’s gotta have three things nowadays: Money, Jack and Dough.”) williMBDKACI EC027ng to make out with Hugh Herbert at the end of the picture if the financial situation requires it (double check). Stir in a dishonest and kind of incompetent French private eye (“Duryea never fails!”) an ocean liner crossing, and 30s girl scout disguises guaranteed to put off any creep who might suggest that such a thing would be in some way “hot” (dude, you’ve already got Joan Blondell here. Why do you need to go and make it weird?).

I don’t suggest that either of these little flickers is going to be restored by Scorcese anytime soon – Kansas City Princess starts to lag when the usual running-in-circles business begins in act three – but the sideways anthropology they provide  mixes so nicely with that special Warner Brothers breed of gleeful snark, particularly the Dame-heavy variety. This is what my Sunday afternoons were built for.

Charlie Chaplin & The Empire Strikes Back (in that order)

1 Sep

darth dictator

(illus. by The Great Tom Trager)

It’s hot here. It’s quite hot. And beyond the window unit in the upstairs bedroom, our house’s cooling system is, at best, insufficient.

This is the time of year when, normally, we go see the Air-Cooled Movies. Sadly, however, there’s precious little we really want to see that we haven’t seen. Also, our nieces, 4 and 8, are in school (already! What happened to Tuesday after Labor Day?) and by virtue of this our available visit times have become more specific.

First, while 4 was the only one around, Sunnyside and Easy Street came out. She’s seen and loved The Gold Rush, got most of the way through The Great Dictator (which we had no intention of showing her but were the victims of the fools at a local branch of a movie chain who decided to show a different picture than the advertised Modern Times) and some other shorts.

She has her own Charlie box set (as well as a small stuffed Charlie and a Taschen book of movie stills she “reads”), but prefers to watch them when we’re around, which is sweet, but is also preventing the proper indoctrination that comes with leaving them on all the time instead of Bubbleguppies or whatever. Still.

1charlieeasystreetThe takeaways from this particular viewing: the dream fairies and the floor-mowing were the big hits of Sunnyside; she was, despite not knowing how gaslight works, really into the lamppost scene from Easy Street; the upside-down baby bottle “peeing” on Charlie’s leg is golden; and she now knows Eric Campbell by sight, if he’s not too heavily disguised. My avuncular work is done here.

Later, 8 came home and it was time for the continuation of something that started earlier in the summer: the Star Wars introduction.


A brief statement of fandom-gauging: I was born in 1973, so my geek level here is just generational, i.e., I only know the names of characters a) whose names are actually said in the movie or b) with corresponding Kenner toys. I read no related novels or comics. I was, like all right-thinking people, profoundly disappointed by the special editions and prequels.

I know these are a religion to some. (I cannot get het up about universe-continuity in a set of movies that cannot themselves settle on the pronunciation of lead characters by lead characters from scene to scene, nor should anyone else – “Hahn/Hann?” “Leea/Laya?”) But I think of these as two terrific movies and one that’s okay but kind of has to be seen. And I accept, again, like all right-thinking people, that The Empire Strikes Back is the best one.

So we had the pleasure of introducing 8, who got her green belt in karate later that night, to Yoda. The effect was as pleasingly bug-eyed as expected in the moment (“No…there is another.”), but 8 is notoriously a slow-burner: we’ll show her something and it will be days before she suddenly makes clear that she’s memorized it. So more news is forthcoming.

This is the mission. And we accomplish it in stages.

Julia Misbehaves (1948)

21 Aug

julia misbehaves 1Julia Misbehaves, a movie remembered mostly because it provided Elizabeth Taylor with her first screen kiss to the always-fortunate Peter Lawford, was a pleasant surprise, particularly because every review I ever read of it was about the misplaced and miscast Greer Garson. I’ve never been particularly excited by Garson films; not for anything about her in particular, just the films themselves. She was typecast in a certain way, particularly after Mrs. Miniver, that led her into a cinematic subset that I  simultaneously appreciate the quality of and seldom turn to for my own entertainment.

But she’s goofy and vivacious here in a way she seldom had the chance to be (even contemporary reviews note this – we’re still cruel to traditionally dramatic leads who give comedy a shot, but I think it was worse back then). Ditto Walter Pidgeon, though he does sing a lot here, something no one ever really asked for. It’s around-the-house singing, though, so I suppose he gets a pass.

julia misbehaves 2And for a late Screwball, something I’ve either seen a disproportionate number of lately or just been thinking about the elements of, this maneuvers itself pretty well. No one is outright mean-spirited or so flawed as to be unsympathetic (cf. Two-Faced Woman, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, to some degree My Favorite Wife). Even Julia’s mother-in-law (not Lucille Watson’s first ride in that rodeo – she was like the devil’s own Beulah Bondi for a while in the 40s) has a certain gleeful kind of imperiousness that makes her sudden and inevitable change of heart seem entirely plausible. Julia Misbehaves is no Bringing Up Baby or Theodora Goes Wild, but it gets out with its charm intact and keeps everyone likeable while maintaining the conflict for long enough to keep things interesting.

(I’m particularly fond of how young Susan’s would-be fiancée is never even shown. Why bother? Just to give him an irritating laugh or visibly clammy handshake and make us watch him suffer/be insufferable? Ralph Bellamy was too old for her anyway.)

And two special mentions: Cesar Romero, who I’ve been watching for years without knowing he had a Cary Grant-level of acrobatic ability hidden behind his mustache (he’s pretty clearly doing most of his own work here – some of the shots are framed in a weird way that implies offstage help, but not enough to make what he is doing unimpressive); and the ever Mary Boland-esque Mary Boland as his coarse, indignant and inebriated mother, stealing scene after scene of a movie she’s scarcely in.

Again, a surprise pleasure.

Looking Backward: Two-Faced Woman (1941)

14 Aug

I should start by saying that the previously-mentioned reviews are fair. Two-Faced Woman is a middling movie at best, and it’s mostly because of Garbo, who plays two roles (sort of) and is miscast in both of them.


It’s also from the latter end of screwball, when for whatever reason a meanness crept into the proceedings. The couple (Garbo & Melvyn Douglas) seems grouchy all the time and the charm of the leads can’t make that go away. (I have similar feelings about Hitchcock’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith.)

I think the key to screwball may have something to do with surrounding likeable people with obstreperous nutjobs or immersing them in unusual situations (or, ideally, both)  instead of making their own relationships and personalities the problem. Also, surrounded by nutjobs of the proper magnitude, our beloved leads can have more flaws of their own without becoming hateful. (cf. Theodora Goes Wild and Nothing Sacred.)

But what do I know?

Looking Backward: Larceny, Inc. (1942)

21 Jul

larcenyincLike Rififi, except with all the bleakness and ennui replaced with Wacky, Larceny, Inc. was a fun little fluffball. But plot machinations are no fun to recapitulate, so let’s talk abot

The Warner Brothers character actor bench was bottomless, wasn’t it?* And in the studio system’s glory days, one week’s major supporting role was next week’s glorified walk-on.

Exempla gratis: the fellow Robinson buys the luggage shop, who summarily disappears, are Harry Davenport (to me, Merle Oberon’s gleefully wicked uncle in The Cowboy and the Lady, but also a director of early silents, Dr. Meade in Gone With the Wind, Mr. Dr.Barnes in Little Women (1949) and a plethora of Judges (Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer) and Grandpas (Meet Me in St. Louis).

The minor role of nearby merchant Sam Bacharach went to John Qualen, already playing an old man before he had even had a chance to talk in an extravagant Swedish accent in random Westerns, sea adventures, and of course His Girl Friday, The Grapes of Wrath, The Seventh Seal and Casablanca. Reasonable pedigree for a man who never was nor shall be a household name.

There’s even a tiny turn by a young Jackie Gleason doing a modified early version of a Joe the Bartender/Poor Soul amalgam. Young Jane Wyman. Young Anthony Quinn as a convict. Broderick Crawford as a lunkhead whose head keeps getting lunked. It’s packed, for a forgotten little bit of silliness.

And did I mention Edward Brophy?

edward-brophy-1-sizedOn another front, I don’t want to ruin something lovely by mentioning it in a way that will make it evident instead of seamless, but watch Edward G. Robinson’s, anytime but especially in comedy. The gestures are simultaneously a little clichéd and perfect. It’s also entirely possible that they only seem cliché because so many actors looked to Robinson for inspiration. The man is inarguably awfully good at his job.

Again, a relaxing fluffball, but one packed with quality people who did their jobs with clarity and precision. And also Jack Carson.




*Unless you count Jack Carson as the bottom. I’d hear that argument.

Looking Backward: Hired Wife (1940)

20 Jul

hired-wife2Rosalind Russell made Hired Wife the same year she made His Girl Friday, 1940. It’s solid, but it suffers when you think of it in those terms. Brian Aherne is grand but is not Cary Grant. And I just found myself pondering the sentence “Virginia Bruce is no Ralph Bellamy,” but it confused me, so I set it aside until I find another context in which to use it. Surely that will come down the pike soon enough.

The “Oopsie!” mishandled-paperwork annulment device is more effectively used in Mr. and Mrs. Smith – still a contrivance there, but it’s a premise instead of a Gordian-knot-slicer.

But as I say, I’m being unduly high in my expectations. It was fun while it lasted. Russell never does less than splendid work in any comic role, and watching her make the screenplay plausible with some of her always precise eyework. (I’m not kidding. Follow the gaze of Rosalind Russell – she’s doing simultaneous windows-to-the-soul and a the-director-wants-your-focus-THERE work all the time, and it’s a skill lacking in a lot of film actors, with the added benefit for her that your own eyes refuse to look away from her lest they miss something.)

I also quite enjoyed the Vaguely Latin Gigolo that was Jose of the Erik Rhodes school.

And there’s Benchley, an ode to whom I leave you with.


To Robert Benchley

O Robert Benchley, Worchester’s favorite son,

You left the Table Round for LA’s smog

And taught us all just How It Should Be Done

(To sleep, detect, behave, to train a dog).

You served to us (in more than just a dollop)

Ivy-beleaguerment, befuddledly

Relating tales like The Sex Life of the Polyp,

Narrating links for Flesh and Fantasy;

But back to that Round Table you were summoned:

Sir Rhosis you were dubbed – you overwined

And so you were unmanned. (Also unwomaned,

Since Gertrude, your dear spouse lived on behind.)

But Life was not the same once you moved on.

(In fact, you AND the magazine are gone.)