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I spent a good portion of today giving the house its weekly cleaning. You know, dusting, vacuuming, polishing the furniture, taking out the garbage–all those things that I would rather not do. And every time I clean, I always think of a particular scene from the movie, Penny Serenade (1941).

For those of you who have seen it, you already know the story. For those of you who haven’t, this is the plot in a nutshell: Irene Dunne and Cary Grant fall in love and attempt to adopt a child, only to encounter an unexpected tragedy that nearly tears them apart. It’s what everyone calls a tearjerker, although to be honest, I’ve never cried during this movie. Despite its downbeat plot, Penny Serenade is great because 1. I absolutely adore the pairing of Grant/Dunne. Not only are they absolutely perfect together, but I think she was Cary Grant’s best leading lady. And 2. I love how she works in a record store at the beginning of the film. From what I’ve seen, 1940’s record stores were pretty awesome. You could go into a booth and listen to records. If I were alive back then, you can bet that’s where I would have been working.

Anyway, the scene I was talking about was when Miss Oliver (Beluah Bondi) unexpectedly visits the home of Julie Adams (Irene Dunne). Since it’s a surprise visit, Julie isn’t expecting any visitors–instead, she’s spending the afternoon cleaning her house. What always gets me about this scene is the way she’s dressed:

Irene Dunne in Penny Serenade

Look at her! She looks absolutely adorable. Her hair is up in a turban/scarf, she’s wearing a cute dress and apron combo and if that weren’t enough, she’s also wearing heels. Heels! For cleaning and scrubbing the house!

Heels!

A full-length view of her outfitSince I wasn’t alive back in the 1940’s, I’m not sure if this is how housewives really dressed while cleaning or if this was Hollywood’s version of dressing for housework. After all, think of how many times actresses look absolutely glamorous and beautiful while on their deathbeds. Still, it seems absolutely ridiculous to wear high heels while cleaning, although I’m not sure if there was any other kind of shoe for women to wear. I think they had to wear heels by default.

Every time I start cleaning the house, I think about this scene. One time I tried to look a bit more presentable while doing all the chores. I tied my hair up in a cute scarf and put on some lipstick–no high heels though, since I like my legs intact and unbroken. Sadly, by the time I finished cleaning, I looked a little something like this:

Sweetums the Muppet

For more on 1940’s fashion, there’s a really informative wiki page here.

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Married!

Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would only be proper to devote today’s post to one of the most quintessentially Irish classics, John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952). While he’s most known for his influential westerns, The Quiet Man is one of my favorite Ford films (along with How Green is My Valley and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).

What I love most about it is the love story between Sean Thornton and Mary-Kate Danaher, which are beautifully played by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. This would be their second teaming, following immediately on the heels of another Ford classic, Rio Grande (1950). The success of that film is what allowed The Quiet Man to be made. Oddly enough, no studio wanted to touch the film, feeling that it wasn’t commercial enough and therefore, wouldn’t make money (it’s always about money!). John Ford originally bought the short story for ten dollars in 1933, promising the author Maurice Walsh more money if it would ever go into production (according to IMDB, Walsh made a total of $6,260 for The Quiet Man). Finally, Republic, the little studio primarily known for their b-movie westerns, gave The Quiet Man it’s home, but only if Ford made Rio Grande first. Not only was that film successful, but it also teamed Wayne and O’Hara for the first time, a partnership that would last through four more films.

Love at first sight!Love at first sight?
It’s love at first sight for Sean. 

Mary-Kate peering ’round a fenceAnd it’s their chemistry that makes The Quiet Man such a wonderful film. From the moment Sean spots the beautiful Mary-Kate in a field of sheep, it’s love at first sight. And who can blame him? With her fiery red hair and ivory complexion, Technicolor was made for a woman like Maureen O’Hara. Set against the lush green backdrop, she’s absolutely stunning. Much of the technicolor equipment was shipped in from various London movie studios and a special schedule was set up, so Ford and the rest of his crew would know how long they could film in the summer months. It certainly pays off. The cinematography throughout is gorgeous, especially when the cast travels through the fields, streets and ponds of Ireland. Also adding to the local flavor is the use of the local townspeople in crowd scenes, as well as the casting of many actors from Dublin’s own Abbey Theater.

Irish CountrysideIrish Countrysideirishcountryside1.jpg
A star in its own right: the lush, beautiful Irish countryside 

Part of what makes The Quiet Man stand out from other romance films is the fact that a good portion was shot on location in Ireland–specifically Cong, County Mayo. In the post-WWII era, more and more studios realized that shooting on location was necessary, since backdrops and screens were becoming passe. Ford’s use of Ireland not only adds to the story, but gives it an authenticity. It’s magical to watch Wayne and O’Hara romp through the bright green fields of Ireland and allows the viewer to be transported as well. Instead of watching a movie, you do believe you’re watching two people fall in love. While I have no doubt that The Quiet Man would be wonderful no matter what the backdrop, the fact that it’s taking place in Ireland just makes it that more special.

intherain.jpgAs Mary-Kate, O’Hara turns in a wonderful performance. She’s an incredibly complex character–equal parts mystery and passion, with a good wallop of feistyness thrown in. While Mary-Kate is feminine, she’s no shrinking violet either. In their five films, many people say O’Hara was the perfect match for John Wayne’s towering presence and I have to agree. And speaking of John Wayne, this (along with 1943’s A Lady Takes a Chance, with the lovely Jean Arthur) is one of the few films that I find him really sexy in. While masculine, Wayne’s Sean Thornton also displays a vulnerable side, no doubt in part to his tragic boxing past that he keeps hidden from Mary-Kate. He’s head over heels in love with her and pursues her relentlessly. Even though her bullying brother, Red (a terrific performance by Victor McLaglen), refuses to give his sister the dowry she so deserves, Sean could care less, telling her that he’d be happy if she’d “come in the clothes on your back or without them for that matter.”

Fight!Dragging Mary-KateNo Fortune, No Marriage!
No fortune, no marriage: Sean wins Mary-Kate’s heart

But it’s that dowry that leads to The Quiet Man‘s final showdowns. First with Mary-Kate, where much to the amusement of the local townspeople, Sean drags her kicking and screaming across the Irish countryside in an attempt to show her just how much he cares about her. In one of my favorite scenes, Sean finally gets Mary-Kate her dowry, only to throw it away in a threshing machine. It’s such a fantastic moment on so many levels: the fact that Mary-Kate is finally free of the money burden as well as her newfound admiration for her husband. With a triumphant look and eyes filled with love, Mary-Kate turns away and announces that she’s going to go home and make his supper. This, of course, leads to the climatic and hilarious fist fight. To describe it here would do it no justice–it’s something you really have to see to believe.

The Men of “The Quiet Man”Since I’m not that knowledgeable about John Ford, I’ll refrain from delving any deeper into The Quiet Man.  But I will say that it’s one of the finest love stories I’ve ever watched. Not only is the story rich with characterizations, but it’s also filled with fine performances from Ford regulars like Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond and Mildred Natwick, as well as Ford’s own brother Francis. And while The Quiet Man may be the perfect film to watch on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s also perfect for any time when you’re in the mood for a top-notch love story that’s not too sappy. It’s what you could call, a perfect film.

Links: Here’s a site detailing tours and a museum devoted to The Quiet Man, while a fan recounts his love of the film, as well as his trip to Ireland.

Also, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, the mothering instinct in me would like to tell you that if you go out drinking tonight, please, please, please do it safely. And since I stopped drinking about two years ago, have a green beer for me. I am currently cooking a huge pot of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes and since my mother only taught me how to cook in huge quantities, I have enough food to feed a small army. If it were possible, I’d invite anyone reading this to come on over and have a plate–there’s even enough for seconds and thirds!

“We have a great deal in common…”
“You’re an improbable person, Eve, and so am I. We have that in common. Also, a contempt for humanity, an inability to love and be loved, insatiable ambition, and talent. We deserve each other.” — Addison DeWitt

All About Eve movie poster - Click for Larger VersionThere’s no doubt that All About Eve is one of Hollywood’s most iconic films. And while I can attest that it has top-notch performances by all the cast members involved (even Marilyn Monroe, who I can tolerate on a good day) and a knockout script filled with line after line of bitchy, witty comebacks, although I have to admit that when I need a Bette Davis fix, I prefer Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte which is one of my all time favorite movies.

Still, I can’t deny that All About Eve is a damn good movie and still remains extremely watchable after all these years (it’s showing tonight, on TCM at 8 pm EST.) It has that certain sophisticated *glow* that all 20th Century Fox movies have (at least from the Golden Era of Hollywood), which only adds to it’s mystique. But All About Eve wouldn’t be the classic it is today if it weren’t for the performances of Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and the always underrated Celeste Holm. It sounds cliched, but these actresses breathe life into the characters–you’re never bored by them, and they make the script work. Claudette Colbert was supposed to have played Margo Channing, but threw out her back while filming Three Came Home. A tragedy for Ms. Colbert, but can you imagine how radically different Margo Channing would have been? Bette Davis has that supreme ego (I mean this as compliment) that makes her Margo Channing the diva she was meant to be. I don’t think Claudette could have pulled it off.

Margo Channing, Diva.Eve (Anne Baxter) and Margo (Bette Davis)
Diva vs. Diva: Davis as Margo Channing and watching Bill Simpson leave with Eve (Baxter)

I first watched All About Eve about three years ago. As a classic film newbie, I knew it was one of the movies that I had to see, and after I watched it, I felt a bit let down. Perhaps I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate it. I’m really showing my age here, but I think I expected a good old fashioned chick fight that included lots of bitch slapping and name calling. Having been in one myself (a long, long time ago), let me tell you–they’re much more fun to watch than to be in. It’s the hair-pulling that hurts the most, although the name calling is a close second.

A telling sceneAnyway, when TCM premiered All About Eve during last month’s Oscar lineup, I decided to give it another go. After all, I’m older, wiser and can appreciate the subtlety of a well-timed quip now. Watching it through new eyes, I was surprised by certain “clues” to Eve’s character that director and writer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz sprinkled throughout. Eve (Anne Baxter) seemed a bit…manly, with her poise being the most telling clue. She didn’t move around the screen like the other women–no, there was something rough about her walk. She lacked femininity. But perhaps the most telling trait is in the way she and her female friend ascend the staircase after placing a phony sick call to Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). I’m always wary of people who “look” for homosexuality in films, since I think some of it is just pure speculation and projection, so I did a little research afterwards.

The truth finally comes outMy suspicions were confirmed: according to Mankiewicz biographer, Ken Geist, the character of Eve Harrington was originally conceived as a lesbian. When you know this little bit about Eve, the film suddenly takes on a whole new light–especially where her relationship with Addison DeWitt is concerned (an Oscar winning perfromance by the marvelous George Sanders). There are lines in the “reveal” scene that throw the viewer for a loop, particuarly in the statement where Addison proclaims, “You realize and you agree how completely you belong to me.” Perhaps Mankiewicz wrote this line so it appears that Eve and Addison are having a sexual relationship–but I find it hard to believe, since neither has ever been affectionate towards one another. Yes, Eve has passion running through her veins, but Addison doesn’t. He gets more excitement out of making sarcastic comments and watching everyone in the theater world stab each other in the back. For all that’s been written about his character, I’ve never gotten the impression that Addison was gay. If anything, I felt that he was somewhat asexual. For him, sex just came with the job, like overtime and health benefits. I’ve always thought that Marilyn Monroe’s character had a relationship with him, and if the code allowed it at the time, I’m sure he would have attempted to play Svengali to a man as well. Yet, I feel the proper description for both Addison and Eve is “chameleon”–they both adapt to the people surrounding them, calculate the situation at hand and sense who they can best use to their advantage. Except that Eve lacks the finesse and wisdom that Addison has. She thinks in the moment, while Addison considers the whole picture and this leads to Eve getting beautifully played at the end.

Meet Eve Harrington
Out of the shadows: Karen meets Eve

Another interesting characterization of Eve is her appearance. When we first see her, she’s emerging from the shadows dressed in a man’s trenchcoat and hat, giving off the impression that they once belonged to her deceased husband. Eve wants to come off as a girl who’s just making do with what’s at hand. But when you find out the truth–there was no husband!–you realize that Eve is a master at costuming herself for the situation at hand. That innocent-looking trenchcoat and hat make her look drab enough to gain sympathy from Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), who first spots her in that darkened alley (now film scholars note that homosexual characters in classic Hollywood films are “coded” this way–lurking in the shadows). Upon first inspection, Eve seems like a shy, sweet theatergoer who has nothing but admiration for Margo Channing. Since it’s all an act, you have to imagine the amount of planning and preparation Eve had to do in order to make her sob story work. In order to seem legit, you need to look the part as well as make it believable.

Addison’s Watchful EyeThe failed seduction

Later, when Eve attempts to seduce Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), she’s again in costume after taking over for Margo. It’s as though Eve cannot play herself–everything she does is a performance for the secret play going on in her mind. Unlike Karen, Bill doesn’t buy it–he flat out rejects Eve. Having seen and worked with all types of actors and actresses, Bill is much more cynical and hardened to the world around him. It’s an interesting comparison to Karen, who spends her free time painting and only observing the theater world from a wife’s viewpoint. She’s not actively involved and while it makes her a bit more naive, it also makes her susceptible to Eve’s plans.

Noticing PhoebeThe Real Eve?Phoebe Meets Addison
The Seduction Theory: Eve and Addison meet Phoebe, an “innocent” schoolgirl

Many people would say that the final scene between Eve and the mysterious Phoebe is the crowning moment of All About Eve. The main point is to let the audience know that in future years to come, Eve will be replaced by Phoebe and other aspiring, cutthroat actresses just like her. But those last five minutes or so tell more about Eve’s true personality than the entire film did. Not only is it the first time we see Eve smoking, but while talking with Phoebe, she drapes herself languorously on the couch. Clearly, Mankiewicz wanted the lesbian side of Eve to be finally revealed and when it is, it’s a bit off-putting. While she’s cold to others, she’s almost leering in her invitation to Phoebe. It’s obvious that she’s attempting to seduce the young woman by asking her to stay the night–yet, it’s Eve who’s being taken in for a sucker. Phoebe is pulling the same routine that she pulled on Margo. The two women even share physical similarities: the same husky tone of voice, a no-nonsense haircut and plain jane clothes. Phoebe is a chameleon as well. The only difference is that she reveals her cards to Addison when he drops off Eve’s forgotten award (and in the process, admits that “Phoebe” isn’t even her real name!). Her ambition is clear-cut. For all you know, Phoebe may be lying about her involvement in the “Eve Harrington Club”–after all, Eve lied about her non-existant husband and who says Phoebe can’t do the same?

The future and beyond…

While some critics claim that Mankiewicz’s portrayal of Eve is supposed to be an attack on lesbians, I only believe that to be a half-truth. Eve is just a terrible person. She may prefer the company of women in her private life, but it’s clear that in her public one, she’d sleep with anyone to get ahead. If anything, I think Mankiewicz succeed in showing us that the life of an ambitious actress is a lonely one. Even in the closing shot, where Phoebe stands among reflections of herself, I take that as a comment on being alone. Eve has no true friends. Addison considers her his “property”, a puppet he can use when he needs her. Margo and Karen have each other and Phoebe is just using Eve to get ahead in the world. Eve winds up with no one. Her ruthless ambition has cost her any close friendships. She will spend night after night alone, with only herself as company. On a related note, Is there any wonder why Bette Davis titled her first autobiography, “The Lonely Life”? Success certainly comes at a cost.

Margo + Bill = True LoveIn the scene where Margo rejects the role in Lloyd’s play, she bases her decision on her upcoming nuptials to Bill, saying, “It means I finally got a life to live. I don’t have to play parts I’m too old for just because I have nothing to do with my nights.” Margo has realized that true love is more important that the adoration of nameless, faceless theatergoers. Bill’s love is the only applause she wants now. She has put her own ambition aside to become a wife. In a case of fiction mimicking real life, Bette Davis and Gary Merrill eloped during the filming of All About Eve, where after, Davis put her career shortly on hold to become a housewife. The marriage, filled with bouts of drunken arguring, didn’t last and both parties would later say that Margo and Bill, not Bette and Gary, fell in love.

Of all the performances in All About Eve, my favorite comes courtesy of Celeste Holm. As Karen, the wife to the famous playwright, Lloyd Richards, she lives a very good life rubbing elbows with the theater elite. It’s a happy marriage. But when Eve gets hold of a cruel joke that Karen played on Margo, her happiness finally becomes threatened. Karen finally feels the sting of loneliness, albeit in a different fashion from Margo. Since Eve is now the new leading lady of Lloyd’s new play, the reheasals only bring them closer together, therefore pushing Karen out of the picture. Right before that fateful phone call, we see Karen lying in bed, musing about their relationship: “Everything Lloyd loved about me, he’d gotten used to, long ago.”

On the telephone

As an observer to the ups and downs of the theater, Karen knows how easily aging actresses are replaced. What makes an aging wife any different? It’s a scary thought, especially after witnessing exactly how manipulative Eve truly is. When Eve finally thinks she has Lloyd in her clutches, she tells Addison about her plan to steal him away from Karen, throwing in a few lies for good measure. This is what finally causes Addison to snap. Knowing that Karen is a good woman and also because Lloyd is a successful playwright whose plays can make or break actresses, Addison blows the roof off Eve’s plans, setting her straight. Attempting to upstage an aging, past-her-prime actress is one thing. To destroy a marriage is another. One wonders what he would have done if Bill gave into Eve’s temptations backstage.

Mankiewicz’s portrayal of the men in this film is especially positive–both Bill and Lloyd stay true to their ladies, and when you include Addison in that group, none of them are easily swayed by Eve’s poisonous charms. Lloyd only wants to do the best for his writing, Bill is madly in love with Margo and Addison is in love with his career. Since all three hold positions of power, they’ve seen every dirty trick in the book. Combine that with the male ego, and you’ll understand why they refuse to be undermined by a up-and-coming actress. It was easier for Eve to worm her way into Margo and Karen’s circle–she could pretend to identify with them, comfort them and offer compliments when needed. Men and woman are equally insecure, it’s just that women tend to wear their emotions on their sleeve. And for someone like Eve, this is all the bait she needs.

At face value, All About Eve is a great movie, but when you dig a little deeper, you find that there’s so much more to it than just backstabbing, betrayal and Margo’s famous line, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!”. It’s about actresses and their vulnerabilities, a married woman facing her worst nightmare and how cruel and low some people can stoop to in order to get ahead in the world. It’s also about love, for it’s love that saves Margo Channing from herself and love that saves the marriage between Lloyd and Karen Richards. Without love, you wind up like Eve Harrington. Successful and adored, but lonely and used. And who wants to live a life like that?

This week’s MP3 doesn’t have to do with All About Eve, per se, but “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays could be the theme song to Eve’s devious plans. I love 70’s R&B/Funk and while it’s not classic movie related, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to post such an appropriate song.

Download: “Backstabbers” by the O’Jays 2.8 MB – Link will open in new window and download it from there.

Like last week’s Free-For-All-Friday entry, the following images have to do with publicity. Except they’re not photographs, they’re illustrations–and beautiful ones at that! I’ve seen some of the illustrations in their original form (I have the Katharine Hepburn one somewhere on my hard drive), but they’re much more striking and lovelier in their illustrated version.

Along with the main illustrations, are tinier ones with little factual trivia blurbs. For instance, did you know that Joan Blondell’s diet consisted for skimmed milk and potatoes for a period of three days at a time (The carbs! The carbs!)? Or that Joel McCrea was one of the only actors never to use any sort of stage makeup? It might also interest you to know that Victor McLaglen cooked all the meals when he went camping and that the divine Tallulah Bankhead was an avid oil painter. Like the publicity packages of the time, I’m not sure how many of these “facts” are true, but they’re sure fun to read.

Click images for larger versions:

Tallulah Bankhead, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery:

Tallulah Bankhead - Click for Larger ImageJohn Barrymore - Click for Larger ImageLionel Barrymore - Click for Larger ImageWallace Beery - Click for Larger Image

Constance Bennett, Joan Bennett, Joan Blondell, Claudette Colbert

Constance Bennett - Click for Larger ImageJoan Bennett - Click for Larger ImageJoan Blondell - Click for Larger ImageClaudette Colbert - Click for Larger Image

Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Durante

Ronald Colman - Click for Larger ImageGary Cooper - Click for Larger ImageMarlene Dietrich - Click for Larger ImageJimmy Durante - Click for Larger Image

Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Katharine Hepburn, Joel McCrea, Victor McLaglen

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. - Click for Larger ImageKatharine Hepburn - Click for Larger ImageJoel McCrea - Click for Larger ImageVictor McLaglen - Click for Larger Image

Also to go with yesterday’s penny-pinching post (say that three times fast), I forgot to link to this site that features old Montana Bar and Restaurant Menus. See how much a toasted sandwich and french fries would cost at the Coffee Cup Cafe or if you’re in the mood for drink, perhaps the drink list at The Club would be more to your liking. Only $.35 for a Daiquiri? I’m there!

Since I’ve been busy for the past few days (not to mention that my brain feels like it’s completely fried out from work), I’ve become semi-obsessed with movies that run from about 60-75 minutes in length. I think they’re what the studios used to call “programmers”: b-movies that were the second feature on the bill, usually made in a short amount of time and with stock members of the studio’s acting stable. I’ve seen quite a few in the last couple of days–I find they fill in the space quite nicely between eating dinner and getting caught up on the latest Governor sex scandal.

One of my favorites is 1932’s Union Depot, a Warner Brothers’ effort that stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Blondell. Since it’s a depression era pre-code, you get all the trimmings: there’s Ruth (Blondell), a chorus girl who’s down on her luck, bums (Fairbanks and Guy Kibbee), a drunk (the lovable Frank McHugh), a counterfeiter on the lam (Alan Hale) and not one, but two sleazy sub-plots! Hurray!

Fairbanks and McHughThe beautiful Joan Blondellkibbee.jpg
Fairbanks and McHugh, Blondell and Kibbee. The latter three are standard in any early 30’s WB movie.

Union Depot is reminiscent of 1932’s Grand Hotel, except that it’s set in a train station and we’re treated to the exploits of the poor, instead of the rich. What I particularly enjoyed were the many subplots that managed to weave together by the end of the film. Since it’s a pre-code, the amount of sex is fairly shocking: when Ruth needs money, she’s willing to prostitute herself out to Chick (Fairbanks), a bum who’s posing as a rich guy thanks to the contents of a suitcase that the drunken McHugh left behind. However, Ruth can’t bring herself to do it and after having a change of heart, Chick decides to play “Sant-y Claus” and help her out. Ruth also has a deliciously twisted back story, which involves a perverted old man that she used to read dirty books too. She thought he was blind–he wasn’t, and when he whipped off his glasses and revealed a pair of evil eyes, Ruth ran for her life. Now, the pervert is hot on her trail and unbeknownst to Ruth, has followed her to Union Depot.

One of the scenes I got the biggest kick out of was in the diner where Chick orders a meal. When he places an order for “a nice tomato salad, a thick sirloin steak smothered in onions, some browned potatoes in creamed gravy, a flock(?) of hot biscuits and some honey, coffee and raisin pie a la mode”, you can only imagine what a meal that sumptuous would cost in 1932. Ready to find out? Here it is:

The grand total of $1.75!

Using this calculator, that meal would now cost a person $26.56. So back in those days, $2 was equivalent to $30 today. Talk about inflation! I’m always fascinated by the price of food in classic movies. It’s shocking to see a grocery store sign touting that a loaf of bread costs ten cents, while in today’s world, a loaf of bread is fifteen to twenty times that much! It insane.

Ellen Drew and Dick Powell on the rooftopMoney is also a huge factor in Preston Sturges little known comedy, Christmas in July (1940). Like Union Depot, it’s also another “programmer”, this time starring Dick Powell and Ellen Drew, as well as Franklin Pangborn and Sturges’ favorites, William Demarest and Frank Moran. Jimmy (Powell) and Betty (Drew) are a working class couple who spend their evenings sitting on the rooftop of their tenement, listening to the radio. Jimmy is obsessed with winning a coffee slogan contest that he entered, and while Betty doesn’t exactly get his entry (“If You Can’t Sleep at Night, it isn’t the Coffee–It’s the Bunk!”), they both dream about the $25,000 prize money that would change their lives. When Jimmy’s co-workers trick him into thinking he’s won the contest via fake telegram, he and Betty go on a huge shopping spree where Jimmy finally buys Betty an engagement ring, as well as gifts for all their neighbors and a state-of-the-art davenport for his mother.

The self airing davenola!
Push button technology that includes a reading lamp, a radio and a self-fluffing mattress–
all for the low, low price of $198.50! Try getting a couch for that now.

Out of all the Sturges films I’ve seen, I have to say that Christmas in July has become one of my favorites. Clocking in at under 67 minutes, it’s not only funny and witty, but Sturges shows how the sudden accumulation of money changes the opinions of others who would have treated the couple like a bunch of nobodies beforehand. In that respect, Christmas in July is pretty depressing: money changes you in the eyes of others. It’s a sad, but true realization. Jimmy and Betty are the same people, only richer and yet, everyone fawns over them as though they’re newfound royalty. That is–until it’s revealed that Jimmy’s winning was a joke and suddenly, Jimmy is a “criminal” to those that had just fawned over him. It’s quite hypocritical.

Like Christmas in July…
Living the Good Life: Ellen Drew and Dick Powell in Christmas in July

I didn’t realize it until the other day, but Union Depot and Christmas in July are quite similar in tone. What makes them work is the ability for the audiences to identify with their characters: Ruth and Chick or Jimmy and Betty. Both stories are representative of their eras. With Ruth and Chick, they’re just struggling to make it through the depression like everyone else. And with Jimmy and Betty, they’re both working just to make ends meet, in hopes that one day they’ll be able to afford a better life. When both couples come into money, the first thing they do is splurge: a big meal for Chick and some new clothes for Ruth, while Jimmy and Betty run down to the local department store and buy an engagement ring. But despite their wealth, the one thing that really draws you into both stories is love. You get the feeling that each couple could wind up poor and still find a way to make it. Love is stronger than money and the tense situations that test each couple afterwards, prove it.

And that’s the beauty of the one hour movie: a big plot and good acting packed into half the time that a regular movie would take. Sure there are some clunkers, but there are hidden gems as well. The studios cranked these movies out like clockwork out only to fill out double bill features and to meet quotas that theaters set. But what the studios didn’t realize is that in some of these little films, such as Union Depot and Christmas in July, were just as uplifting and entertaining as an top-billed movie, maybe even more so. By the time the 60’s rolled around, the “programmer” was pretty much obsolete and that’s a shame. Thank goodness they’re still around for us to watch today. Although times have changed, good films haven’t and sometimes, you just need a little cinematic pick-me-up that only a well-crafted b-movie programmer can provide.

a 1928 Joan Crawford pantyhose adI didn’t realize it, but tomorrow morning – Wednesday, March 12 – TCM is showing three of Joan Crawford’s early performances: Our Dancing Daughters (1928) at 6:00 am, Our Modern Maidens (1929) at 7:30 am, and Our Blushing Brides (1930) at 9:00 am. The first two are silents, while the latter is a talkie. Even though I’m not really into silents (sorry!), I’m always interested in watching performances of actresses I like. They’re also rarely shown–I think this is the first time in ages that the “Our” trilogy is being aired in a consecutive block.

Our Dancing Daughters is the film that catapulted Joan to stardom, while in the second, she stars with her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. It would be the only time they would appear together in a film. According to the IMDB trivia page for Our Modern Maidens, Crawford married Fairbanks “in a well orchestrated publicity event for the film.” Which I’m not sure is true. That makes it sound as though Crawford only married him for the movie, which adds to her already tarnished image. In reality, their marriage was a real, yet passionate one. In the book Not the Girl Next Door by Charlotte Chandler, an interview with Fairbanks states, “We felt we had a lot in common, if not everything. Our backgrounds are not the same. In real estate, they say–location, location, location. In our relationship it was Sex! Sex! Sex! That was what we had in common.” Heh.

Crawford constantly called Fairbanks’ her “Prince Charming.” This only intensified when Fairbanks scared off a man who claimed he had a copy of a rather risque film Joan had made when she was financially strapped for cash. I’ve always wondered about that rumor myself. Apparently Joan had made such a film (which has either disintegrated or is currently rotting away in someone’s attic as we speak). When she told Fairbanks about it, she claimed not to have done anything terrible in it, but the fact that she was present made it embarrassing enough. The rumor is also addressed in the 60’s trashy-but-fun melodrama, The Carpetbaggers, in which the Jennie Denton character (played by Martha Hyer) is loosely based on Joan Crawford.

However, the marriage between Crawford and Fairbanks ended when she not only put her career first, but changed as a person. As Fairbanks put it, “As I knew her, her laugh changed more than any other thing about her. It grew softer, more modulated, less spontaneous…she didn’t want her background to show.” The divorce was her idea and Fairbanks assumed that they would eventually get back together again. They didn’t. Joan would go on to marry (and eventually divorce) Franchot Tone in 1935 after falling in love with him during the shoot of Today We Live (1933). Despite this, you can see Crawford and Fairbanks together, at the height of their passion, in Our Modern Maidens.

For anyone wanting more info on Our Dancing Daughters, this page includes vintage reviews and images, while this site has extensive reviews on both, Our Dancing Daughters and Our Modern Maidens.

the movie poster for “I Confess” - Click for larger image

In the confessional boothMany people who have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953) say that it’s one his most underrated films. After seeing it last week, I have to agree with them although I wouldn’t be quick to say that it’s a great movie. It’s flawed, that’s for sure, but it’s also a good, solid film. I Confess is unlike any of Hitchcock’s movies since it lacks the mysterious glamour that’s found in his most famous works. The plot centers around a priest named Father Logan (played beautifully by Montgomery Clift), who is unable to tell the police about a murder since he is bound by the vow of confessional secrecy. Also complicating matters is the involvement of an old flame, Ruth (Anne Baxter) and a police inspector, Laurrue (Karl Malden), who is intent on finding out the truth.

There are two things that keep I Confess from being a great Hitchcock movie: the flashback romance between Father Logan and Ruth as well as the fact that we immediately know who the murderer is. While both ideas are necessary to the plot, their execution bogs the story down a bit.

Confessing to the wifeSince Hitchcock wastes no time in getting to the “who” and “why” of the story, you find out that Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) is the murderer. Otto is an employee of the church as well as gardener for the man he killed, local lawyer, Villette. After confessing his sin to Father Logan in the confessional, Otto then tells his wife, Alma (Dolly Hass) why he killed Villette–he stole $2,000 because he was sick of watching her work so hard. During the confession, Father Logan told Otto that he must give the money back–an idea that terrifies him since he doesn’t want to be caught. Grief-stricken, Alma fears that Father Logan will go to the authorities and report the crime and suddenly Otto realizes that he is bound to his Catholic vow. He must keep the confession secret.

What’s interesting about this scene is watching Otto’s manner change from panicked and fearful to annoyingly confident. He is no longer frightened. You can literally see the weight of his guilt lift off his shoulders. Otto has gained a tremendous amount of power, knowing he can commit murder and get away with it. His eyes become wide and the expression on his face turns manic with an almost sick kind of glee. There are no doubts in his mind that Father Logan will not go to the police. Otto has faith in his strength as a man of the cloth, but what he doesn’t realize is that his actions will end up hurting the person he loves the most: Alma.

While it’s interesting to start off the movie with a bang, it lessens the suspense throughout. Even though Ruth (Baxter) gets involved halfway through and you find out that Villette was blackmailing her, you still know that Keller is the murderer. Part of the fun of a Hitchcock movie is the big reveal or a murder committed either halfway through or at the end: Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train or the “two” Kim Novaks in Vertigo. And while the ending of I Confess is definitely exciting, the middle of the film has a tendency to lag.

Flashback romance - Anne Baxter and Montgomery CliftPart of the problem with the Ruth subplot is that it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. Anne Baxter is perfect for the part of Ruth. She does well with the material and she and Clift are well matched. But it’s the part itself that seems as though it was transported out of another movie, almost as though Hitchcock was trying to inject his brand of romance for the sake of adding it. For the most part, I Confess has a sharpness to it. The cinematography is fantastic and crisp, but with Ruth’s subplot it suddenly takes on a dream-like quality to reflect her obsessive love for Father Logan. Compared to the tightness of the rest of the script, it’s jarring, to say the least. Yet, Ruth flashback is essential to the plot since in trying to help him clear his name, she winds up doing more damage to his case.

Montgomery Clift

Montgomery Clift, an actor I’ve always liked, is beyond amazing in I Confess. I noticed that he doesn’t say much. Instead of dialogue, Hitchcock uses close-ups on Clift’s face to convey the emotions he’s going through. What’s amazing about his performance is that he expresses so much through his eyes. You see the agony that he’s going through, the internal struggle of wanting to tell the police even though he knows he can’t. Father Logan’s love for God and his devotion to the church is stronger than his own need.  As the story progresses and Otto becomes more and more aggressive, taunting Father Logan and lying about his own involvement, Clift does an amazing job at expressing his character’s fear of being arrested and hung for a crime he didn’t commit. I’ve seen quite a few of Clift’s films and I Confess is certainly one of his best. So much of the movie succeeds because of his performance. Clift’s Father Logan carries himself with a quiet dignity. There’s no doubt that he will honor the sacred vows he made when he became a Priest, no matter what the cost.

The heart of I Confess is rooted in the “C” word: Catholicism. After watching this and looking up various articles, I wasn’t very surprised to find out that Hitchcock was a Catholic throughout most of his life. If one is brought up in another denomination, the vow of Confessional secrecy that sets the plot into motion might not be familiar to some. Hitchcock uses various Catholic themes throughout, mainly religious fear, not to mention guilt, suffering and forgiveness. All the characters go through some sort of suffering throughout the film, but it’s Father Logan who receives the brunt of it. Here’s a man who devotes his life to God and winds up suffering for the sins of others (Otto’s murder and Ruth’s obsessive love for him despite being married) because he’s unwilling to break the promises he made to God. Hitchcock makes it quite clear that Father Logan is a Christ-like figure, most notably during the scene where he goes walking through the streets of Quebec. Clift is presented in a long shot, with a statue of Christ carrying the cross while being flanked by two guards in the foreground. It’s not subtle at all. This image is repeated later in the movie, during Father Logan’s trial. When you see him, he’s surrounded by two guards, while a large crucifix hangs on the wall across from his seat. It’s as though Hitchcock is setting up Logan by showing him what will happen if the jury finds him guilty: he will hang. Not only will he die for Otto’s sin, but Ruth’s as well.

Carrying the CrossModern symbolismDelievering the verdict
The religious symbolism throughout I Confess 

The tension between Father Logan and Otto is really what elevates the premise of I Confess. It’s almost unbelievable how brazen Otto becomes in taunting Father Logan, reminding him of his confessional vow as well as lying to the authorities and basically selling out the man who is protecting him. At first his faith in Father Logan is solid. At the beginning of the story, Otto tells Logan, “I have abused your kindness…you gave my wife and me a home–even friendship, so wonderful a thing for a refugee, a German, a man without a home.” But it becomes easier and easier for Otto to transfer his own guilt to the priest, therefore making him less and less sure of Father Logan in the process.

O.E. Hasse and Brian AherneDolly Hass as Alma
In the courtroom: Otto on the stand and Alma in the seats 

Father Logan isn’t the only one suffering at the hands of Otto–his wife, Alma also suffers as well. At first, she’s overly nervous, especially whenever she comes into contact with him. But it’s during Logan’s trial that the guilt of knowing her husband’s secret really begins taking it’s toll. When Otto testifies against Logan, and lies about the events of the night leading up to his confession, the dismay is clear on Alma’s face. With every negative testimony put against him, she grows more and more shaken. She knows the truth, but telling it would result in the death of the man she loves.

the fateful momentDolly Hass is wonderful as Alma. There’s a meekness about her that makes her perfect for the role, although in the penultimate scene, she drops it and shows a boldness in her quest do the right thing. In so many of his films, Hitchcock attempts to show you that every man has good and evil coursing through his veins and I Confess is no exception. After Father Logan receives his “Not Guilty” verdict (which is delivered with a few disparaging remarks by the foreman and judge), the crowd that waits outside the courtroom is hostile. As Alma and Otto watch Father Logan get shoved by the angry mob, Alma can take no more. Her love for Otto is trumped by the torment of wanting to do what’s right: clear an innocent man’s name. When she pushes her way through the crowd and approaches a police officer, Otto’s sense of fear takes over. He has no other choice but to shoot Alma to keep her quiet.

Here is the most interesting twist in the entire film: since Father Logan can no longer die for Otto’s sin, it’s Alma that winds up dying for it instead. She suddenly becomes the Christ-like figure in Hitchcock’s world. After suffering for her husband’s guilt, she winds up paying for it with her life. It’s a rather dark move, made even darker by the fact that this one of of Hitchcock’s only films that’s completely devoid of humor. It’s also important to note that in the original play on which this is based, Father Logan does die at the end, which would have made his Christ-like transformation complete.

Forgiveness - O.E. Hasse and CliftDuring the final moments of I Confess, Otto winds up falling into his own trap and thinking that Father Logan has told the authorities, winds up indicting himself. After shooting at the police, they shoot back and Otto is struck. As he lays dying, he finds out that Alma has died and asks forgiveness from Father Logan. It’s amazing that his love of Alma is what drove him to steal and murder, only to turn around and murder the woman he loved in order to save himself. This realization is what causes Otto to ask forgiveness before he dies, because if one is truly sorry for their actions, then forgiveness is granted. The workings of the Catholic church do come full circle in I Confess, which I thought was nicely done. You’re to believe that Otto, while not a truly bad man, got swept up in his own fear to the point where he became someone else entirely. Under the right circumstances, anyone can change.

a chance encounter between Logan and RuthWatching I Confess in today’s world, I find it interesting that Father Logan is made out to be a good priest and a good man. Even in his darkest hour and after aimlessly walking the streets of Quebec, he makes his way to a church and turns to God for solace and comfort. There’s nothing shifty about Father Logan, although the sudden appearance of Ruth does make you wonder a bit, but only momentarily.  Yet, if I Confess were made today amidst all the church scandals, there would be no doubting that Father Logan is guilty of something, in any way, shape or form. When Ruth and Logan meet at the crime scene and she utters the words, “We’re free!”, you can’t help but think something really tawdry is going on between them. You even doubt Otto’s confession for a moment, thinking that perhaps there was some kind of twist and Father Logan had done something to Villette before Otto arrived and finished him off. It’s amazing how modern thinking and controversies can shape one’s opinion on a movie that was made almost 50 years ago!

Karl Malden and Anne BaxterBut despite all it’s flaws, I Confess is still a good, solid Hitchcock movie. The cinematography by Robert Burks and score by Dimitri Tiomkin (who both worked on several Hitchcock classics) only elevate it above the standards of a normal film. Also worth mentioning are the strong performances of Karl Malden (to be honest, he’s always good) and Brian Aherne as Willy Robertson, a friend to Ruth and her husband and the prosecutor who grills Father Logan during the trial.

In my opinion, I Confess is one of Hitchcock’s most personal movies. In later interviews, he felt that I Confess was a disappointment, possibly due to it’s not being well-received at the time of it’s release. During the early 50’s, Catholics were not well liked throughout England and perhaps Hitchcock took their refusal to see I Confess (as well as many of his other films from that era) personally. I will never get the notion of disliking someone because of their personal beliefs, unless that person is trying to shove it down your throat. Perhaps audiences felt that’s what Hitchcock was trying to do with I Confess–which he wasn’t. Hitchcock was merely trying to tell the story a wronged priest and with the exception of the opening scene, not once is Father Logan shown consoling other parishioners on the rights and wrongs of the world. He’s just another wronged man, made guilty in the eyes of others because of uncontrollable circumstances and his devotion to God. He could fit in right next to Cary Grant in North by Northwest or Henry Fonda in The Wrong Man. It’s an interesting twist to a standard mystery. Combine that with the outstanding performance put in by Montgomery Clift and that’s exactly why I Confess, despite some weak points, still manages to hold up today.