Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dueling Lions: The Women and Ninptchka

Two of the biggest films of 1939 happened to be by MGM (no, not Gone with the Wind or The Wixard of Oz), and they both used fantastic melodramatic actresses in new found roles of comedy.
The Women is aptly titled because there are over 130 roles in the film, all played by women. In addition, no art represents the male form, and all of the animals used in the film were female. Talk about an estrogen-fest!
What really struck me about The Women was the speed at which Rosalind Russel was able to speak. No wonder she is on the cover of a book I recently read called "Fast-Talking Dames".

I love the dress with the eyes!
I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed Norma Shearer in this picture. Honestly, I have never cared at all for "Queen Norma" in the past. She often fell in my school of over-actors with Elizabeth Taylor and Susan Hayward. She was refreshingly likable and mostly sensible in this film, even in the scene where she gets a little bit cheesy. Over all, I respect her much more after seeing The Women, the only other picture I have seen of hers is The Divorcee, and I couldn't stomach the melodrama long enough to finish it.
"I've had two years to grow claws, mother. Jungle Red!!!"
Joan Crawford was also fabulous as the evil Crystal Allen. How about that clear bathtub?

I love that Virginia Weidler got her own card in the trailer. She was cute in the film, but I don't think they had fully realized her potential until The Philadelphia Story the following year. Maybe there just wasn't enough room in this film for another witty dame.

Qhile The Women was disguised as a high-class drama to afford tons of women sinking their claws in to each other, Ninotchka was a true high comedy directed by the king of aristocratic fare, Ernst Lubitch. The film was promoted with two very powerful words: GARBO LAUGHS.
With writers Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch, there were plnty of laughs. It got off to a rather slow start (as I find many Billy Wilder films to do. It seems to take an absurd catalyst to get the ball rolling), but about 20 minutes into the picture I began to really enjoy it.

Go to bed little father!
William Powell, Cary Grant, and Spencer Tracy were courted to play Leon. Melvyn Douglas does a fine job, but I would have preferred Powell or Grant.
Ninotchka was remade as Silk Stockings, with, get ready for it, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. I saw it a few months ago and I hated it, as I do most of the musical remakes I have seen.

That's all for now. Have a fun and safe new year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


First, the National Film Registry announced its 25 selections for 2009 this morning. Here are the films that made the cut. I'm still angry that Life of the American Fireman has not made the list, as it is the first example of sequential editing. whatevs. At least Pillow Talk and Mrs. Miniver were added!

The Classic Movie blog made a wonderful post about the stars that are fortunately still with us. Let us celebrate the ones we still have instead of mourning the ones that have left us (but I will still be sad that I don't have Ginger).

I bought a cheap-o old laptop the other day, and once I get my wireless card installed, I will give you another entry tomorrow about The Women and Ninotchka!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Can one sum up one of the greatest films in history in one word? I'll try: stunning. Not only is this a fascinating tale, but it serves both as a historical service and a comment on society in 1939 and impending war.
Technilogically, this film was a breakthrough in many ways. First, for its superior use of technicolor, which until then was only used in pieces of films (see early 1930s musicals like Dixiana or the fashion show in The Women). GWTW and The Wizard of Oz figured out how to light and costume a technicolor picture without the awkward amount of time that sound technology took to perfect. GWTW also maintained historical and logical integrity in the costuming department by not using wild colors just for the hell of it, like most technicolor musicals of the 1940s (ahem, The Harvey Girls anyone?).
Another unprecedented technique was the use of mattes combined with shots. Not only did it save money on set construction, it painted the full picture and gave the movie a more dreamy look. I had no idea that this was used until after I finished the movie, but now that I look back I can just barely see the difference between the real and the painted. For 70 years old, that's pretty damn good.
I say I'm not a huge fan of Vivien Leigh, she overacted just the right amount for Scarlett. I don't think there could have been any other interpretation of the character, although I really would have liked to see alternate versions with some of the other actresses who were considered (especially Paulette Goddard and Carole Lombard). Speaking of screen tests: if you're looking for a laugh, look no further than Jean Arthur's. Poor thing, just try to keep a straight face while hearing her say "fiddle dee dee". It seems like every actress in Hollywood but Ginger read for the part. Does she mention it in her autobiography? I can't remember off the top of my head.
I also LOVED Olivia DeHaviland as Melanie. Andre Leeds (Kaye from Stage Door) also read for the part. She would have been wonderful, but I think it was Olivia's role from the day she was born. No one can deliver a line as sweetly as she can. The only casting decision I did not understand was Leslie Howard. He was too old, and his reservations about playing the part came through on screen. He's just not the siren that it seems like he should be in order to catch the eye of the young and flirtatious Scarlett. Perhaps if he has been played by more of a heartthrob, more people would have understood Scarlett's undying love for him. On the other hand, maybe that was the point: he wasn't anything special, he was the one she couldn't have, and that's the only reason she wanted him. Hopefully I will understand better when I read the novel.
And oh, the costumes. I can't decide which dress is my favorite:
Weird, because I don't usually go for Red.
I usually balk at long movies because I have become used to the classic model of no more than 1.5 hours. However I was so enamored with GWTW that I didn't even notice that it was approaching 1 AM when it ended. Then I stayed up even later and watched the "making of" documentary that followed.
I am really happy I finally sat down and watched this movie. What I expected to be a melodramatic and overrated epic was actually a fantastic piece of cinematic history. I was pleasantly surprised, and I hope this happens more often.

Over the Top Blog Award!!

Ok, not quite.
Matthew over at the delightful Movietone News was kind enough to give me my very first blog award, and given my last post, I think it's pretty safe to consider me an "over the top" blogger!
The rules of this award state that I must complete this questionnaire with only one word per answer. oy!

Where is your phone? pocket
Your hair? Ginger
Your Mother? iffy
Your Father? similar
Your favourite food? Popcorn
Your dream last night? Insane-in-the-membrane (haha, I had to!)
Your favourite drink? Vino
Your dream/goal? Film!
What room are you in? Bedroom
Your hobby? Embroidery
Your fear? rejection
Where were you last night? blizzard
Something that you’re not? short
Muffins? cupcakes
Wishlist item? Love
Where did you grow up? Oklahoma
Last thing you did? eat
What are you wearing? hair
Your TV?
Your pets? stinky
Friends? different
Your life? inane
Your mood? quixotic
Missing someone? Ginya
Something you’re not wearing? boxers
Your favourite store? antiques
Your favourite colour? purple
When was the last time you laughed? constant
The last time you cried?
Your best friend? dead
One place that you go to over and over? bed
Facebook? sometimes
Favourite place to eat? couch

Now I'm supposed to give it to people...but I don't know who to give it to! Comment and take it. Spread the love!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jennifer Jones 1919-2009

I tried to watch The Song of Bernadette last night on Youtube, but the only available copy looked like it had been videotaped right off the TV, and the sound was even worse. Instead of haphazardly paraphrasing wikipedia, I am going to point you to some other stellar posts about her from people who know what they're talking about.
CK Dexter Haven is, like me, not really in to miss Jones.
Glamour has seen quite a few of her films and offers insight to them.
The best one I have read is from the Styled Siren. They not only look at her films, but her somewhat tumultuous love life and its connection. After all, her producer husband David O Selznick influenced her career more than I can say.
Now for some pictures. Miss Jones and I are from the same home town, Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's a fairly large city that boomed after oil was discovered here in the late teens. For a while it was a very stylish city for oil barons and their fur-wrapped wives. It is also a mecca for art deco architecture. I have a feeling that my being brought up around the best surviving examples of art deco, from skyscrapers to fire houses has heavily influenced my preference for the look and feel of the 1930s. We even have a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Jones' childhood home is in a very rich part of town, both then and now. It is less ornamented than some of the other homes in the area, but is still very nice and would have cost a pretty penny in the early 20s. It is a very nice home on a corner lot with a large back yard.

She went to school at Monte Cassino, a private catholic school about 2 1/2 miles from her home. When she won an Oscar for her first film, The Song of Bernadette, Monte Cassino dedicated a statue of her as Bernadette on the grounds. Here it is:

It is aptly facing a small grotto modeled after Lourdes. There is, unfortunately, no plaque to tell the young MC students the significance of this statue or the legacy that Jennifer Jones leaves behind. Some of my friends and I will be contacting Monte Cassino in the coming weeks to encourage them to add a plaque in her memory.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Weather Outside is Frightful...

Oklahoma is experiencing a record amount of December snowfall. We have about 7 inches here in Tulsa, and in Norman, where I live and go to school, we had 14 inches!

Indy (R) and Bella (L) don't seem to mind. They like pretending to be Sonya Henjie!
Back inside, there's not much to do but watch movies and this:

I have watched quite a few movies, though. I'm going to list them and tell you briefly what I thought:
Why We Fight: Very good. I wish I had watched it before I wrote my paper on Foreign Policy!
Once Upon a Honeymoon: Finally showed this one to my mom. We agree: It gets of to a fantastic start, but loses complete focus when it turns in to a Nazi dramedy. Pick one and stick with it, and since you have Cary, Ginger, and Leo McCarey, you should have picked comedy.
That Touch of Mink: Doris Day and Cary Grant. I feel that the plot of this film has aged better than Doris' other sex comedies, namely Pillow Talk.
The RKO Story: See it as soon as possible.
An Affair to Remember: pretty much a shot-for-shot remake. I liked the Irene Dunne/Charles Boyer version significantly better.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith: Very good Carole Lombard film, one of her last. I can't quite understand why Alfred Hitchock was assigned to it. I guess everyone has to pay their dues.
Gone With the Wind: HOLY CRAP. I will be writing a full entry to tell you how much I love it.

Tonight I plan on watching "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" and "Song of Bernadette", the latter so that I can write you a fantastic obituary on Miss Jennifer Jones, which is long overdue.

I have discovered a new cure for cabin fever, especially if you are completely insane like me. allows you to add sparkly unicorns and rainbows to the picture of your choice. Here are a few of mine:

Hollywood the Golden Years: The RKO Story

I just watched the first three episodes of Hollywood the Golden Years: The RKO Story. I can't believe how much I didn't know from reading the other books about the studio and star autobiographies. What I especially liked was episode 3: A Woman's Lot. It followed the RKO contract years of both Ginger and Katharine Hepburn, featuring interviews from both. While very informative, it also showed how different their experiences were because of their different approaches for fame.

I love Ginger to death and beyond, but let's all admit that she was a little more than full of herself. There are plenty examples of it in this show, namely the contrast between Katharine's view of the studio as a big family that knew what was going on with every body. Meanwhile, Ginger says that she never met most of the people at RKO, and that maybe some technicians went from movie to movie, but she never interacted with them. Kate on the other hand begins to name many people from the cutting room to wardrobe, to electricians. It's obvious that while Kate entered the RKO gates and socialized, getting to know her colleagues and making great friends with them, Ginger maintained the "secluded star" ideal, with Lela in tow making her decisions. I can't say that this is the approach I would take to showbiz, but I can't knock her because she made it work. Or did she? I wonder if at least a little smidge of the difference between Kate and Ginger's legacy is their approach to their craft and the connections they made with their fellow technicians.

The complete RKO Story episodes are available on most BitTorrent websites as a download. I don't know why TCM doesn't air it (besides the fact that it was a BBC production). They should definitely look in to securing the rights and airing it frequently.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy festivus!

There is at least 6 inches of snow on my doorstep, so I will be catching up on all the great movies available on Netflix Instant watch. I will hopefully catch up on some blogging too!
Here is the view from my front door (yes, I live on a street, but my flash doesn't go that far!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Birthday Irene Dunne!

Yesterday would have been Irene Dunne's 111th birthday. Let's celebrate by watching some great clips. It was hard to narrow them down, there are so many!
"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is a wonderful Jerome Kern standard, and Miss Irene premiered it.

I was always amazed at how young she looked. As a latecomer to movies (32 in her first film), she still played young women despite being in her forties during most of her best roles

Irene's voices were fantastic!!!

It was hard to pick a scene from my favorite movie "The Awful Truth:. You should probably just watch the entire movie.

More great Irene films to watch to celebrate: My Favorite Wife, I Remember Mama, Theadora Goes Wild, Joy of Living

Friday, December 18, 2009

Coming tomorrow...

1. a special post about Jennifer Jones, including some pictures from her (and my) hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma
2. Gone with the Wind!

But first, my best friend and I are going to celebrate the end of this semester with a little libation!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

National Film Registry

If you have not yet nominated films to be protected by the National Film Registry, your days are running out!
Here are the films I selected. I think most of them are pretty self-explanatory:
Life of an American Fireman
The Broadway Melody of 1929
The Champ
A Bill of Divorcement
The Most Dangerous Game
What Price Hollywood
Flying Down to Rio
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum
Private Life of Henry VIII
The Gay Divorcee
Of Human Bondage
Sadie McKee
Becky Sharp
Camille (1936)
Follow the Fleet
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
The Petrified Forest
Theadora Goes Wild
A Damsel in Distress
Easy Living
Lost Horizon
Make Way for Tomorrow
Shall We Dance
Stage Door
Vivacious Lady
You Can't Take it With You
Bachelor Mother
Dark Victory
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Love Affair
Intermezzo: A Love Story
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
The Roaring Twenties
I know that the maximum amount that can be submitted is 50, but I was so distraught at how many films from 1939 had not yet been added that I stopped there. I have not seen about half of the films I nominated, and that is exactly why I nominated them: they are not readily available to the public, even to a sect of the pulic that thoroughly searches for them.Make Way for Tomorrow is a specific example of this. I read about it at another blog (whose name escapes me at the moment). It sounds fantastic. I have been regularly requesting it on TCM, but we all know that that doesn't mean much.
Anyway, make sure that you nominate 50 films before the year is out! I'm trying to do all I can to promote preservation among fans before it actually becomes my job.
To nominate, email your submissions to
Here is a list of notable films that have not yet been named to the registry (only a few. for example, Roberta is not listed and not in the registry), and here is a list of films that have been named.

Oh, and PS: I heard back today about an internship at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. If I'm selected, I will intern in the film department, and perhaps aid in the curation of an exhibit of costumes ranging from Pickford to Cate Blanchett. I may actually get to handle a gown worn by Bette Davis (who is quickly rising in the ranks of my favorites).