Jean Harlow

TCMFF 2014, Day 3 — From “Father of the Bride” to “Freaks”

Saturday, April 12, 2014:

Father of the Bride Spencer Tracy Elizabeth TaylorAfter having ended the previous day’s movies with Eraserhead, I woke up this morning in need of a little levity.  Originally, I had been planning to see Stella Dallas, but decided to go with Father of the Bride instead.  Not only is it a very funny movie, I had never seen a Spencer Tracy or Elizabeth Taylor movie in a theater before.  Plus it had the added bonus of playing in the same theater as the next movie I wanted to see, Godzilla.

Father of the Bride was delightful as always.  Godzilla was so much fun to see with a crowd and boy was the crowd enthusiastic!  This screening was the world premiere of a new restoration of the original Japanese version of Godzilla, in all its Raymond Burr-free glory.  The picture quality was absolutely stunning.  If you have the chance to go see this restoration on the big screen, I very highly recommend it.  Godzilla was introduced by historian Eddie von Mueller and Gareth Edwards, director of the upcoming Godzilla movie.

Godzilla

From Godzilla, it was back to Club TCM to check out the conversation with editor Thelma Schoonmaker hosted by author and historian Cari Beauchamp. In addition to Schoonmaker’s long collaboration with director Martin Scorsese (her work on his films has won three Academy Awards), she was an editor on the groundbreaking documentary Woodstock and was married to legendary British filmmaker Michael Powell, half of the Powell and Pressburger team.  (Fun fact: Martin Scorsese was also an editor/assistant director on Woodstock.  Scorsese brought cufflinks with him to Woodstock because he thought they’d be going out to dinner while they were there.)

Thelma Schoonmaker Cari Beauchamp TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy Getty Images

Of the movies she’s done with Scorsese, she discussed Raging Bull the most. Raging Bull was a very challenging film to edit because there was so much improvisation from the actors; a challenge revisited with Scorsese’s most recent film, The Wolf of Wall Street.  She doesn’t visit the sets of his movies because she thinks it’s important to have a cold eye in the editing room.  Schoonmaker credits Scorsese with teaching her everything she knows about editing because he’s a director who thinks like an editor. As for what quality Scorsese most admires most in her, he knows he can trust her.  Ever since the time in film school when she helped him fix his student film that hadn’t been cut properly, he’s known she will do what’s right for his films.

Schoonmaker spoke very fondly of her time with husband Michael Powell. She’s very active in preserving her husband’s film legacy and also introduced his film A Matter of Life and Death at the festival.  She plays a role in overseeing the restorations of Powell’s work and mentioned that after this conversation, she was heading out to check some work on a transfer on one of his films.  If you are hoping to see a HD print of The Tales of Hoffman, you’ll be glad to know that she said the original negative is in excellent condition.

Next up was “Hollywood Home Movies: Treasures from the Academy Film Archive.”  We were treated to rare behind-the-scenes footage and personal home movies of film legends.  This was a must-see event for me because I knew it would be a totally unique event that I wouldn’t be able to attend elsewhere.  I was definitely not disappointed; the home movies we saw were absolutely fascinating.

The selections included home movies of Florenz Ziegfeld and Billie Burke, an extremely playful Alfred Hitchcock at home with Alma and daughter Pat, Jean Harlow in her dressing room, visitors to Hearst Mansion (including a cameo from Howard Hughes), Gilbert Roland and Constance Bennett with friends on their boat, behind the scenes footage of Gone With the Wind, the It’s a Wonderful Life wrap party picnic, Walt Disney riding on a backyard railroad, location footage of Oklahoma!, behind the scenes of Jerry Lewis on The Geisha Boy, and a montage of movie stars with their pets and other animals.

Vivien Leigh behind the scenes Gone With the Wind

Behind the scenes of Gone With the Wind

My favorite clips were the Ziegfeld/Burke home movies, which included Florenz Ziegfeld frolicking with a butterfly net and a pet elephant trying to walk into daughter Patricia’s playhouse; the Hitchcock home movies; and Jean Harlow in her dressing room.  I found the Jean Harlow footage particularly interesting because it wasn’t official, studio-sanctioned footage; it appeared to be filmed by a friend or MGM employee who was casually testing out their personal home movie camera.  So it doesn’t show “Jean Harlow the movie star,” it’s Jean being herself, casually chatting with the camera operator.  Even when she wasn’t being “Jean Harlow the movie star,” she was captivating to watch.  The hosts from AMPAS said they could tell from some grain on the film that it had originally been filmed in color, but unfortunately, they only had a black and white copy.

The Gone With the Wind behind the scenes footage was a real treat.  It was color 8mm footage that showed Vivien Leigh with her stand in, Clark Gable riding horses with Cammie King, and the setups for filming the scene at Twelve Oaks where Scarlett is surrounded by all the men at the party and the scene where Rhett and Scarlett are on their honeymoon and are having dinner with the can-can dancers in the background.  I was also thrilled to see the It’s a Wonderful Life picnic since that was something Karolyn Grimes had talked about when I saw her at the Redford back in November.

The types of film used for some of the home movies were also unintentionally revealing about the types of people who used it.  The Ziegfeld/Burke home movies were filmed on 35mm, something that would have only been used by the very wealthy in the early 1920s.  The Hitchcock home movies, which dated from 1929-1936, were in color, so it should come as no surprise that he was definitely a person on the cutting edge of film.

After “Hollywood Home Movies,” I headed over to the Chinese theater for A Hard Day’s Night.  I was really torn between seeing A Hard Day’s Night and Bell, Book, and Candle introduced by Kim Novak at the Egyptian.  I had been leaning more toward Bell, Book, and Candle, but I really wanted to see something at the Chinese theater and I was starting to worry that I might not get to see anything there, so A Hard Day’s Night won.

Alec Baldwin Don Was TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy Getty Images

Beatlemania may have started 50 years ago, but it was still going strong at TCMFF.  I couldn’t have asked for a better venue to see A Hard Day’s Night in. Their sound system is wonderful, so it was a dream to hear all those Beatles classics  that way.  The picture quality was absolutely pristine.  The Chinese theater seats over 900 so it was packed with a lot of enthusiastic fans.  The excitement was palpable and I loved every minute of being a part of it.

A Hard Day’s Night was introduced by Alec Baldwin and music producer Don Was (who has produced albums for Ringo Starr, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Bob Dylan, just to name a few).  Their introduction was one of my favorite introductions of the festival; it was hard to not be engrossed by their enthusiasm.

Then it was time to head to the El Capitan to get in line for The Women.  I joined Raquel (Out of the Past), K.C. (A Classic Movie Blog), and Lara (Backlots), who are exactly the kind of people you want to be in line with to see The Women. I had so much fun discussing the movie with them and quoting the famous, “There’s a name for you ladies…” line in unison.

The Women TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy Getty Images

Over the course of TCMFF, I saw a lot of movies with very enthusiastic crowds, but I think the crowd for The Women took the cake.  I’m used to people applauding for certain things like a star’s entrance or a name appearing in the opening credits.  Since this is a movie with such an incredible cast, there was a lot of applauding going on.  The crowd went wild for Norma Shearer saying, “I’ve had two years to grow claws, mother! Jungle red!” It’s a fabulous movie to watch at home and even better to see with a crowd.  The Women was introduced by Ben Mankiewicz and actress Anna Kendrick. Much shade was thrown at the 2008 remake.

Freaks Poster

The last movie of the day was the midnight screening of Freaks.  I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about this screening since I was pretty exhausted by the time I got there.  But I’m glad I had to check out one of the ultimate midnight movies on the big screen.

And I just love the fact that I started this day with Father of the Bride and ended it with Freaks. 

The Secret Six (1931)

The Secret Six 1931 PosterLooking to make some fast money, Scorpio (Wallace Beery) meets with gangsters Johnny Franks (Ralph Bellamy) and Mizoski (Paul Hurst) about joining a bootlegging racket.  They work for Newton (Lewis Stone) and he wants to muscle fellow bootlegger Joe Colimo (John Miljan) out of some of his territory.  Of course, Colimo isn’t about to take that sitting down. He gets into a gunfight with Newton’s guys and Colimo’s brother is killed in the crossfire.  When Colimo comes looking to get even, Johnny tries to set Scorpio up to take the fall, but Scorpio figures out what’s going on and turns the tables on Johnny.

With all the excitement, police and newspaper reporters flock to Newton’s headquarters.  Among them are reporters Hank (John Mack Brown) and Carl (Clark Gable), who take a linking to Newton’s associate Anne (Jean Harlow).  Each of them is hoping to get the scoop from Anne.  After the excitement surrounding Johnny and Colimo dies down, Scorpio  continues to prove to be a valuable asset to the gang and even helps get Mizoski elected as Mayor.  Not content with just running a small town, Scorpio sets his sights on taking over the big city, too.  But the big city doesn’t want Scorpio around. A group called The Secret Six is formed to fight his influence and Carl is recruited to help their cause.

The Secret Six is a somewhat unusual MGM movie in that it has none of the gloss generally associated with MGM movies and instead has all of the grit of a Warner Brothers movie.  Indeed, The Secret Six was produced by Irving Thalberg in an attempt to compete with Warner Brothers’ gangster hits like The Public Enemy. Although The Secret Six is an enjoyable movie with a good cast, it lacks the organic quality that Little Caesar and The Public Enemy have.   It’s a movie that tried so hard to follow a trend that it simply could not have that effortless quality of the trendsetter.

Fashion in Film: Berets

If you’re like me, you often find yourself watching films and seeing tons of fashion styles you would love to wear in real life.  I watch movies from so many decades and from so many different genres, if I actually did copy all the styles I like, I’d have one diverse wardrobe.  But if there’s one accessory you could easily get a lot of mileage out of, it’s a beret.  Berets have been a popular hat style for decades, so if you want to go for a Norma Shearer inspired look one day and a Faye Dunaway inspired look the next, a beret could easily work for both styles.

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The Public Enemy (1931)

Even from a young age, it was pretty clear that Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) weren’t on the road to becoming fine, upstanding citizens.  They got their start working for gangster Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell) as children, and when they grew up a bit, he put them to work on bigger jobs.  However, when their first real job goes horribly wrong, Putty Nose leaves them to fend for themselves.  With Putty Nose out of the picture, Tom and Matt get friendly with Nails Nathan (Leslie Fenton) and Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O’Connor) and move into the bootlegging racket.

Tom quickly becomes a key player in the local bootlegging ring and starts living the life of a big time gangster.  He’s making lots of money, he gets custom made suits, and rides around town in a nice car.  On the other hand, Tom’s brother Mike (Donald Cook) has taken the more legitimate route in life.  He goes to school, works on a streetcar,  and serves in World War I.  Even though Mike isn’t ashamed of earning an honest living, he has a hard time coping with the fact that he works so hard and barely gets by while his brother is getting rich by breaking the law.  Ma Powers (Beryl Mercer) remains oblivious to how Tom really earns a living and only wants to think the best of her son.

The bootlegging racket continues to be extremely lucrative for Tom and he only becomes more cutthroat and aggressive with time.  When Putty Nose comes back to town, Tom and Matt shoot him.  The women Tom dates aren’t safe, either.  When his girlfriend Kitty (Mae Clarke) gets on his last nerve, he shoves a grapefruit in her face and immediately ditches her for Gwen (Jean Harlow).  Tom’s enemies don’t even have to be human.  After Nails dies from being thrown off his horse, Tom heads on over to the stable and guns down the horse.  So when his best friend Matt is killed by a rival gang, you better believe Tom is out for blood.  But even a big shot like Tom Powers isn’t big enough to take out an entire gang by himself.

Oh, how I love The Public Enemy.  It’s very easily one of my absolute favorite movies.  There’s so much I’d love to say about it that I don’t think I can possibly fit it all in one post.  I could watch it a hundred times and not get tired of it.  Not only do I love the gangster storyline, but I’m also fascinated by the conflict between Tom and his brother.  With two such strong stories going on, The Public Enemy fits more into 83 minutes than a lot of movies do in two hours.

And, of course, I adore James Cagney.  I believe The Public Enemy was the first Cagney movie I ever saw and he instantly became one of my favorite actors.  Originally, Cagney was set to play the part of Matt Doyle and Edward Woods was supposed to be Tom Powers.  But thank goodness director William Wellman realized that Cagney would have hit it out of the park as Tom and had them switch parts.  Cagney’s tour de force performance made him a full-fledged star after only one year of being in movies.

If you ever have the opportunity to see The Public Enemy on the big screen, I very highly recommend going.  When you think of movies that are best seen on the big screen, you probably think of movies like Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but believe me, James Cagney was meant to be seen on the big screen.  His screen presence is incredible if you watch him on just a normal-sized television. But when you’re seeing him on a twenty foot tall screen? Every little movement, smirk, and expression is magnified a hundred times and it’s a much more intense experience than it is to watch at home.  This scene in particular is absolutely incredible when you see it in a theater.  I was very pleasantly surprised by how much seeing it on the big screen really added to the whole experience.

Platinum Blonde (1931)

When a showgirl sues Michael Schuyler (Donald Dillaway), part of a very prominent social family, for breach of promise, reporter Stew Smith (Robert Williams) is sent to cover the story.  The Schuyler family desperately wants to keep the scandal out of the papers, so they try bribing the reporters to not cover the story.  Ann Schuyler (Jean Harlow) also tries to charm him out of running the story, but Stew is one reporter who can’t be bought and runs the story anyway.

After the scandal hits the papers, Stew stops by the Schuyler estate.  Not to apologize, but to return a book he had taken with him while he was there.  Inside of it, he found some love letters the show girl was planning to use to blackmail Michael into giving her more money, and he knew the family would want those back.  Stew knows the difference between news and blackmail and doesn’t want any part of the latter.  Ann offers him a $5,000 reward, but he turns it down and the two of them end up having lunch together.

Ann and Stew get along very well and continue seeing each other.  They very quickly elope, to the shock of everyone, especially Gallagher (Loretta Young), Stew’s best friend and secret admirer.  Ann’s family disapproves of her marrying someone from a lower class, but she reassures them that she’s going to turn him into the perfect gentleman.  Many of Stew’s friends give him a hard time about being a kept man.  He wants Ann to move into his apartment and they can live off of his salary, but instead, they end up living in a wing of the Schuyler family estate and Stew has a very hard time adjusting to Ann’s way of life.

Stew and Ann’s worlds collide during a party the Schuylers throw for a Spanish embassador.  Gallagher is sent to cover the story for the paper and Ann isn’t happy to discover that her husband’s best friend is a woman.  Not only that, when a rival reporter shows up to offer Stew his own column under the condition that he uses the byline “Ann Schuyler’s Husband,” Stew punches the reporter.  Sure enough, the fight lands them on the front page of the paper.

The Schuylers are absolutely horrified by the whole event, but Ann sticks by Stew and encourages him to write a play.  One night, Stew skips one of Ann’s many society events to work on the play.  But when he needs a little inspiration, he invites Gallagher and some of his other friends to come over, and before he knows it, there’s a wild party going on.  Despite all the crazy antics going on around them, Gallagher and Stew manage to come up with the idea of doing a play about his marriage.  However, when the Schuylers come home, they aren’t happy about his little party.  Ann gets into a fight with Stew and he decides he wants out of this marriage.  He ends up back in his old apartment and finishing his play with Gallagher by his side.

I really loved Platinum Blonde, despite its forced ending.  However, the title felt a little inappropriate to me.  The first time I saw it, with a title like that, I was expecting a madcap comedy like Bombshell.  In reality, it’s a smart look at the power of social class differences that’s more on the witty side than the madcap.  Frank Capra’s direction and a strong script serve as a rock-solid foundation for Harlow, Williams, Young, and a delightful supporting cast to bring it to an even higher level.

I absolutely adored Robert Williams in it, who unfortunately died a short time after Platinum Blonde was released.  He only made a handful of movies during his life and showed great promise in Platinum Blonde, it’s really too bad that he didn’t get to have a more prolific film career.

Recasting “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” (2008)

After being fired from her job as a governess, a very straight-laced Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) finds herself deemed unemployable by her employment agency.  But when she hears about a job for a woman named Delysia LaFosse (Amy Adams), she jumps at the chance to get it.  When she arrives at Delysia’s apartment, she expects she will be taking care of children.  Instead, she finds herself taking care of an aspiring actress tangled up in a love triangle.  First there’s the young theater producer, Phil Goldman (Tom Payne), who is putting on a play that Delysia desperately wants the lead in.  She’s trying to keep him interested in her and not her rival Charlotte Warren.  Then there’s Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong), who owns the nightclub Delysia sings at.  He’s the one footing the bill for her lavish apartment and expensive clothes.  And last but not least, there’s Michael (Lee Pace), the piano player who just got out of jail.  He isn’t rich and doesn’t have the influence Nick and Phil do, but he does genuinely love her.

Over the course of one day, Guinevere helps Delysia get out of various messes and Delysia, in turn, helps Guinevere learn to embrace life.  Delysia takes Guinevere to her friend Edythe’s (Shirley Henderson) salon and gives her a makeover.  It turns out that Edythe and Guinevere have a little dirt on each other.  They had bumped into each other on the street the night before Guinevere came to Delysia’s, so Edythe knows Guinevere isn’t really the social secretary Delysia thinks she is.  But Guinevere saw Edythe out with a man who isn’t her lingerie designer boyfriend Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds).  When Delysia takes Guinevere with her to a lingerie show, Guinevere meets Joe for herself and the two of them are instantly attracted to each other.

Although released in 2008, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was actually intended to be made as a movie in 1941.  Originally, it was a novel by Winifred Watson released in 1937, and she later sold the film rights to Universal Studios in 1939.  Universal held on to it for a little while and by 1941, had plans to turn it into a musical starring Billie Burke as Miss Pettigrew.  Watson was very eager to see “Miss Pettigrew…” turned into a movie, but unfortunately, the project was shelved after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  In 1954, Universal renewed the rights to the story, but again, nothing ever became of it.  Watson died in 2002 believing her story would never make it to the silver screen.

The novel was released in 1937, but I wish it had been released just a few years earlier because I think “Miss Pettigrew” would have made a great pre-code had it been around in 1934.  Delysia’s bed-hopping to further her career is hardly a secret, there’s lots of lingerie, and the book contains drug references.  I’m very curious about how Universal planned to get around some of these issues in 1941.  The drug references were gone in the 2008 movie, so those could easily been cut out in 1941, but whitewashing Delysia’s bed-hopping would have definitely been a challenge.  I also would have pegged this for an MGM movie rather than a Universal.

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Beast of the City (1932)

Jim Fitzpatrick (Walter Huston) seems to be living the all-American dream life.  He’s got a wife, children, a nice home, a good job as a police officer, and a close relationship with his brother and fellow cop Ed (Wallace Ford).  Jim takes his job very seriously, especially when it comes to putting an end to organized crime.  When the bodies of some gangsters are found, Jim immediately suspects that notorious gangster Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt) is the one responsible.  Sam gets off the hook easily that time, but Jim is determined to come down on him hard.

Jim’s dedication eventually ends up working against him, though, and it gets him transferred to a smaller, quieter district.  Ed, however, continues to keep tabs on Belmonte and one night goes to question Daisy Stevens (Jean Harlow), Belmonte’s stenographer.  She tells Ed that she’s through with Belmonte and the two of them spend the evening getting drunk together and begin having an affair.  Meanwhile, Jim proves to be such a success at his new precinct when he stops a bank robber that he is made chief of police.  Back at his old precinct, Jim’s top priority is breaking up organized crime and starts shutting down speakeasies left and right.  However, he is also determined to not give any officers any unfair advantages.  When Ed asks for a promotion so he could have more money to take Daisy out with, Jim turns him down.  Later that night, he goes out with Daisy and they end up running into Belmonte.  Belmonte gives Ed the chance to earn some extra money by fixing it so he can get his illegal goods into town without getting caught.

The next day, Jim tells Ed that he will be in charge of escorting a large transport of cash.  When Ed tells Daisy about this, she tells one of Belmotne’s associates and they plan to steal the truck.  Daisy tells Ed about the plan and convinces him to go along with it.  The big heist goes down, but unbeknownst to Ed, the truck has been followed by two other officers who chase the thieves down.  When questioned at the station, one of the thieves admits that Ed was in on it, too.  The case goes to trial, and shockingly, all who were involved are found not guilty.  Ed desperately wants to rebuild his relationship with Jim and sever all ties with Belmonte.  Knowing that Belmonte and his gang are all out celebrating their court victory, Ed agrees to go confront Belmonte with Jim and several police officers backing them up.  Of course, Belmonte isn’t willing to go down without a fight and insists on going out in a hail of gunfire.

Beast of the City is a great crime movie.  Super gritty and raw with excellent performances all around (be sure to keep an eye out for a very young Mickey Rooney in a small part as one of Jim’s children).  It’s kind of like The Public Enemy, but from the cops’ perspective.  With so much grit and violence, y0u might think this was a Warner Brothers film, but surprisingly, it was produced by MGM.  That big shoot-out scene at the end of the film was definitely not something you would typically expect of a 1930s MGM film.  Especially since Irving Thalberg didn’t work on it and he was the one who pushed through a lot of MGM’s edgier films during that era.  This movie actually came about when Louis B. Mayer wanted to do a movie that created a positive image of police officers, but then it ended up being so violent that he refused to let it be the top feature in double features, it could only be the second film.  But Beast of the City is definitely top-feature quality.

I picked this one to write about for The Scarlett Olive’s For The Boys blogathon because it’s the complete antithesis of the 1930s MGM women’s picture.  When MGM wanted to appeal to women, they put Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, or Greta Garbo in the lead.  They’d have Adrian come up with some fabulous gowns and have some handsome leading man for them to wind up with.  The last way those movies would end is with a violent bloodbath.  Beast of the City doesn’t really have any female characters for women moviegoers to identify with.  Jean Harlow’s character isn’t exactly the kind of person women would be rooting for.  It doesn’t have a love story, it’s ultimately about the relationship between two brothers.  These aren’t even the kind of men that women would sit in the audience and swoon over.  Although I think women could easily enjoy it, I certainly did, it’s pretty clear that they weren’t expecting women to be lining up for it in 1932.

Be sure to visit The Scarlett Olive for more on movies that mainly appeal to men, be sure to pay them a visit for more contributions.