Tag Archives: Joan Crawford

What’s on TCM: January 2014

Joan CrawfordHappy new year!  I hope you all had a very happy holiday season. I had a lot of fun revisiting all my favorite holiday movies in December, but now it’s time to get back to watching more regular movies and luckily, TCM is going to make that transition very easy for me.

Break out the shoulder pads, eyebrow pencils, and Pepsi because Joan Crawford is the Star of the Month!  A marathon of Joan Crawford movies will start every Thursday night at 8:00 PM and each week will focus on a different era of Joan’s career.

This month’s installment of Friday Night Spotlight will feature Science in the Movies and is going to be hosted by Dr. Sean Michael Carroll, PhD, a senior research associate at the California Institute of Technology’s Physics department.

Other noteworthy things happening in January include Judge Judy as Guest Programmer, a celebration of past and present recipients of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and 24 hours of movies by Columbia Pictures to commemorate the studio’s 90th anniversary.  Now, let’s take a more detailed look at the line-up…

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Possessed (1931)

Possessed 1931 Joan Crawford Clark GableMarian Martin (Joan Crawford) is an unrepentant gold digger.  She’s a factory worker from Erie, Pennsylvania, but she would love to be a high society dame.  Her boyfriend Al Manning (Wallace Ford) is a fellow working class guy and is content to stay that way. But Marian knows her only real chance at being a wealthy woman is to marry for money.  On her way home from work one day, she meets the wealthy Wally Stuart (Richard Gallagher) when he passes by on a train.  Wally is drunk at the time and tells Marian to look him up if she’s ever in New York.  When Al finds out that Marian was spending time with another man, he’s livid and his reaction is enough to drive Marian straight to New York.

Marian arrives in New York and goes straight to Wally’s apartment, but he doesn’t remember her.  However, he does give her some advice on meeting rich men.  And as luck would have it, she catches the eye of Wally’s friend Mark Whitney (Clark Gable).  Mark is divorced and doesn’t want to re-marry because he’s afraid of being hurt again.  However, he does turn Marian into a kept woman and they carry on an affair for three years.  He even has her pose as Mrs. Moreland, a rich divorcee, to make their arrangement appear more respectable.

While Marian has been in New York with Mark, Al has been back in Erie starting his own concrete company.  His business is doing well and when he comes to New York on business, he visits Marian and proposes to her, not knowing about her relationship with Mark.  She turns him down, but when he finds out she knows Mark Whitney, he uses her as a connection to get a meeting with Mark.  However, Mark’s attitude toward marriage has changed now that he’s considering running for governor, despite the damage it could do to his campaign.  Not wanting to hurt Mark’s campaign, Marian breaks it off with him to marry Al instead.  But when Al finds out about her affair with Mark, he wants nothing to do with her unless she uses her influence with Mark to help him seal that business deal.  Marian leaves Al, but will Mark take her back?

Joan Crawford and Clark Gable starred in eight movies together and Possessed is one of the best of the bunch.  Not only is their chemistry completely on point, Possessed is a perfect example of why I’m so fond of many movies from the pre-code era.  It’s full of the boundary-pushing material that makes the era so interesting to many people.  The story is very efficiently told;  Possessed clocks in at a whopping 76 minutes and not a minute of it is wasted.  Plain and simple, it’s a very sharp little movie.

My Favorite Pre-Code Journalists

As you will see with this weekend’s Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon (hosted by Comet Over Hollywood and Lindsay’s Movie Musings), there are plenty of great movies that feature memorable journalists.  Citizen Kane, His Girl Friday, All the President’s Men, just to name a few.  But for me, my favorite reporters in movies were all from the pre-code era.

Clark Gable It Happened One NightClark Gable as Peter Warne in It Happened One Night

Now Peter Warne is a reporter who will go to any length to get a good story.  And you gotta admit, he put up with a lot of nonsense from Ellie on their trip together.  But when it comes down to it, Peter isn’t a greedy man.  After falling in love with Ellie, he just wants to publish his story so he can have the money to marry her.  And even when it looks like she’s left him to go back to Westley, he still doesn’t care about the huge reward.  All he wants cares about is getting his expenses reimbursed.

Joan Crawford in Dance, Fools, DanceJoan Crawford as Bonnie Jordan in Dance, Fools, Dance

Bonnie Jordan may be just a rookie reporter, but she also goes the extra mile for her job.  When one of her fellow reporters is killed while investigating gangster Jake Luva (played by Clark Gable), her editor sends her to find out who is responsible for his death.  So Bonnie takes a job dancing in Jake’s nightclub so she can get close to him.  Of course, she ends up biting more than she can chew and even though she gets her story, she decides being a reporter just isn’t right for her after all.  But you’ve certainly got to give her credit for giving it her all.

Glenda Farrell in Mystery of the Wax MuseumGlenda Farrell as Florence Dempsey in Mystery of the Wax Museum

You can always count on Glenda Farrell to bring plenty of sass to her characters and Mystery of the Wax Museum is no exception.  Not only is Florence sassy, she can dig up stories on slow news days and is smart enough to figure out what’s really happening at the wax museum.  Every newspaper needs a Florence Dempsey type on their staff.

James Cagney in Picture SnatcherJames Cagney as Danny Keane in Picture Snatcher

Gotta love Danny Keane.  After giving up being a gangster, he decides to pursue his lifelong dream of being a newspaper reporter.  He doesn’t work at the best paper in town, but he makes the most of the opportunity.  Danny is clever, resourceful, and not afraid to break the rules, so he excels at getting some hard-to-get pictures for the paper.  Even though he’s not the most ethical journalist, he’s not cold and ruthless, either.  When he goes too far on the job and ends up hurting the girl he’s fallen in love with, he feels just awful about it.

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For more contributions to the Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon, head on over to Comet Over Hollywood or Lindsay’s Movie Musings.

What’s on TCM: September 2013

Kim Novak VertigoHappy September, everybody!  TCM’s Summer Under the Stars may be drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean September is going to be a boring month.  In fact, September looks like it’s going to be one of my favorite TCM months in a long time.

First of all, TCM will be kicking off their major Story of Film series.  Not only will they be showing Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film — An Odyssey documentary series on Monday and Tuesday nights, but TCM will also be playing many films featured in the documentary.  This reminds me a bit of the programming TCM did when they had their Moguls and Movie Stars series back in November of 2010.  However, unlike Moguls and Movie Stars, The Story of Film looks beyond the American film industry and branches into world cinema so they will be showing many films that were not discussed during Moguls and Movie Stars.  Fans of silent films have good reason to be excited for this because there will be many nights focusing on the silent era.  If you want to expand your knowledge of film history in general, you are not going to want to miss this series.  This series will continue into October.

If you’re an Alfred Hitchcock fan, you’re going to love the Sundays with Hitch series this month.  Every Sunday, almost all day long, will be dedicated to none other than the Master of Suspense.

Kim Novak will be the Star of the Month.  Her movies can be seen every Thursday this month.

Friday Night Spotlight also makes its return with a series called “Future Shock” hosted by Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, dedicated to movies about futuristic dystopias.  There are a few more modern movies in this line-up, but I can forgive that considering how many nights are dedicated to silent film this month.

It’s going to be a very busy month, so let’s take a closer look at the schedule…

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Across to Singapore (1928)

Across to Singapore Joan Crawford Ramon NovarroJoel Shore (Ramon Novarro) is the youngest son in a family full of sailors.  While his older brother Mark (Ernest Torrence) is off on a trip, Joel has been in his hometown with Priscilla (Joan Crawford), who he has been in love with for a long time.  Priscilla is also in love with Joel, but when Mark returns, he falls in love with Priscilla and publicly announces his plans to marry her, which is news to Priscilla.

The day after announcing their betrothal, Mark and his crew head out on a voyage to Singapore.  For the first time, Joel comes along for the trip.  Before they leave, Priscilla declares her love for Joel and refuses to kiss Mark goodbye.  Mark is heartbroken and spends the trip distraught and drinking himself into oblivion.  When they arrive in Singapore, Mark continues to wallow in his drunken stupor and his crew, led by Finch (Jim Mason), decide to overthrow Mark.  They put Joel in irons and head back home, leaving Mark behind.

When the crew arrives at home again, they tell everyone Mark was killed in a fight in Singapore and that Joel was a coward who deserted Mark during the fight.  After being freed, Joel sees Priscilla and tells her the truth about what really happened in Singapore.  He sets out to sail back to Singapore to find Mark and brings Priscilla along for the trip.  Joel succeeds in finding Mark and after being found, finds out the truth about what Finch has done.  There is a huge fight which Mark dies in, but not before asking Joel to take care of Priscilla.

I can file Across to Singapore under “Oh, the things I will sit through for the sake of Joan Crawford.”  As bad as movies like Trog were, at least Trog was bad enough to be fun.  Across to Singapore was just plain boring.  It has absolutely nothing interesting going for it.  I didn’t care much for the story, there were no memorable performances, it was just dull and forgettable.  Across to Singapore is so forgettable that I hope that by writing about it, I will at least remember that I watched it.  I don’t want to mistakenly waste another 85 minutes re-watching it because I forgot that I had seen it already.

Dueling Divas: Joan Crawford vs. Norma Shearer

The Women_Joan and NormaBette Davis may be Joan Crawford’s most notorious rival, but personally, I don’t think Bette posed half the threat to Joan that Norma Shearer did.  One thing you have to remember is that Bette and Joan only spent six years working together at the same studio, so for most of their careers, they at least weren’t directly competing for roles.  On the other hand, Norma and Joan spent seventeen years together at MGM, so on many occasions, they were vying for the same material.  Plus, Norma had the advantage of being married to Irving Thalberg, MGM’s head of production.

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Laughing Sinners (1931)

For two years, nightclub dancer Ivy Stevens (Joan Crawford) has been carrying on an affair with traveling salesman Howdy Palmer (Neil Hamilton).  Howdy means the absolute world to Ivy, but what she doesn’t know is that he’s about to leave her to marry another woman.  He knows how heartbroken she would be and can’t bring himself to end things in person, so he leaves a note for her to find as soon as she’s done on stage one night.

Ivy is so devastated that she wants to throw herself off a bridge, but just as she’s about to jump, Salvation Army worker Carl Loomis (Clark Gable) stops her and offers her some reassuring words.  He also invites her to join him at a picnic for disadvantaged children he’ll be working at.  Ivy turns him down at first, but when she reads about Howdy’s wedding in the newspaper, she changes her mind.  That afternoon, she trades her flashy clothing for the more modest Salvation Army uniform.

Time passes and Howdy isn’t happy with his marriage, so when he runs into Ivy one day, he tries to rekindle their relationship.  But by then, Ivy has found happiness with Carl and in her new, more wholesome life, so she turns him down.  Howdy doesn’t want to let her go and continues to pressure her into getting back together with him, and eventually she gives in.  Ivy had thought her past was now firmly behind her, but being with Howdy again has brought out her former self again.  When she starts dancing around the way she used to, she catches the attention of everyone in her hotel, including Carl.  She’s horrified for Carl to see her that way, but ultimately, she realizes the life she could lead with Carl is the one that would bring her the most happiness.

Laughing Sinners has a pretty mediocre story, but if you’re a big fan of either Crawford or Gable, it’s worth seeing just for the sake of seeing them working together for the second time.  Crawford gave a pretty engaging performance and there’s a definite rapport between her and Gable, but he doesn’t seem particularly comfortable playing a Salvation Army worker.  It’s easy to forgive Gable for being awkward, though, since this is another very early movie in his career and it’s not surprising that MGM wanted to see how he’d do as a different type of character.  But really, even if Gable had totally hit it out of the park, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference since the story is so flimsy, it was never going to amount to a great movie. Any other Crawford/Gable pairing is more worth your time.

Letty Lynton (1932)

Wealthy heiress Letty Lynton (Joan Crawford) has been busy living the high life in Uruguay.  She’s been carrying on a sordid affair with Emile Renaul (Nils Asther) for a while, but when she decides to give him up, she gets on the next boat home to New York. Letty’s tried leaving Emile before and has always come back, so he figures this is just another one of her whims.

But during the trip home, Letty meets Jerry Darrow (Robert Montgomery), and everything changes.  They fall madly in love with each other, but Letty absolutely does not want Jerry to know about her wild past.  She even considers getting off the boat when it makes a stop in Havana so he won’t find out. But before she can leave, Jerry proposes and naturally, Letty accepts.  They happily continue on to New York, but when the boat docks, Letty is horrified to see Emile waiting for her.  She sneaks away from Jerry and finds out the Emile wants to bring her back to Uruguay, but when Emile later finds out about Jerry and Letty’s engagement, he threatens to show Jerry the love letters she’s written to him.

Letty would rather die than let Jerry find out about Emile, so when she goes to Emile’s hotel room to get the letters, she brings a bottle of poison with her to commit suicide right then and there.  Of course, Emile isn’t about to give them up.  When he isn’t looking, she slips the poison into her drink, but then Emile takes the poisoned drink by mistake. Letty watches in horror as he dies, but ultimately can’t bring herself to be sorry.  She flees his hotel room and goes with Jerry to visit his parents.  But of course, the police come looking for Letty and she and Jerry have to be questioned.

I wouldn’t say Letty Lynton is one of the best movies of Joan Crawford’s entire career, but it is one of my favorites from her pre-code era.  Story-wise, it feels a little different from the rest.  One type of role Joan was most well-known for was the working class girl trying to move up in the world.  In Letty Lynton, she’s already pretty high up on the social ladder.  I love the scene after Emile accidentally takes Letty’s poisoned drink and Letty starts yelling at him about how she’s not sorry.  That’s the kind of scene that made me understand why Bette Davis may have possibly envied Joan’s career at that time.  I’m sure Bette would have loved to have played that scene.  It was a total Bette Davis moment made two years before Bette even started playing those kinds of roles.

Even though I could totally picture Bette Davis in this movie, I love Joan in it.  She, Robert Montgomery, and Nils Asther made a very enjoyable cast and it’s a pretty entertaining movie.  As Joan Crawford fans know, Letty Lynton has been completely out of circulation since 1936 when a court ruled that it had plagiarized the play Dishonored Lady.  If you look around enough, you can find bootleg copies of it, but it hasn’t been played in a theater since then, let alone shown on TV or officially released on VHS or DVD.

Joan in Adrian’s legendary Letty Lynton gown.

Late last year, reports surfaced that Warner Brothers was trying to straighten out the legal issues out so it could be released on DVD through Warner Archives and for it to be shown at the 2012 TCM Film Festival.  They weren’t able to get it ready for the TCM Festival, but I’m holding out hope that it will eventually be put out on DVD because Letty Lynton deserves to be seen.  Not only would Joan Crawford fans be thrilled, but this is one fans of pre-codes in general would love.  And if you appreciate costume design, Letty Lynton is worth seeing if only for the spectacular Adrian gowns Joan Crawford gets to wear.  Adrian did some of the best work of his career on Letty Lynton and to only be able to see that work through bootlegs copies of the movie is just unfortunate.

In the past, Warner Archive has successfully gotten The Constant Nymph and Night Flight out of legal messes and I’d be ecstatic if Letty Lynton could be added to the list.  Of those three movies, I’d say Letty Lynton is the best of the bunch.

What’s on TCM: July 2012

Happy July, everyone!  Hard to believe that it’s already almost time for Summer Under the Stars, but TCM has lots of fun stuff going on in July to keep us busy until then.  Leslie Howard is the Star of the Month and his movies will be on every Tuesday night this month.  Every Monday in July will be dedicated to showing 24 hours of adventure movies.  Spike Lee is this month’s guest programmer and has chosen some excellent movies for the night of July 5th.  There are a lot of good things to mention, so let’s get to it:

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My Local Joan Crawford Connection

About a year and a half ago, while I was reading Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford, I discovered that I had a local connection to Joan Crawford.  I’d known that while Joan was trying to get started as a chorus girl, she had a brief stint dancing in a club in Detroit, but I didn’t know which club or where it was.  But thanks to that book, I not only found out the name, I realized I’d been right past it a hundred times.

This is the place.  3067 E. Grand Boulevard.  (Picture found on the Library of Congress website)

When Joan danced there in the 1920s, the club was named Oriole Terrace, which was a pretty swanky jazz joint at the time.  It was located on East Grand Boulevard just off of Woodward Avenue (if you’re familiar with the area, it was across from the police station, next to Goodyear).  Joan didn’t dance there for long, but it was a pretty important stepping stone in her career.   While she was here, she met Broadway producer J.J. Shubert who asked her to come to New York to be part of his new show called Innocent Eyes.  When she finished with that show, she went into another Shubert show, which is where she was spotted by Harry Rapf.  Harry had her do a screen test, asked her to come work for MGM, and the rest is history.

The front of the theater in the 1940s, after a fire.

Aside from the Joan Crawford connection, this theater actually had a pretty interesting history.  It was built in 1915 and was originally one of the first duplex movie theaters.  The movie house closed in 1922, then it became Oriole Terrace.  As the years went by, it went through a series of name changes, but stayed active and performers such as Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Lena Horne and Jimmy Durante graced its stage.  (Here’s what the interior of the club looked like in 1960.)  In its last incarnation as Grand Quarters during the 1980s and early 1990s, it was a pretty popular place for rock concerts.  Bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails all played there.

Unfortunately, after it closed down sometime in the mid-to-late 90s, it fell into a state of disrepair.  It was just demolished in January after having been slated for demolition since 2008.  It’s too bad that such a historic theater couldn’t be saved (I can’t help but be fascinated by any place where performers ranged from a pre-fame Joan Crawford to Diana Ross and Kurt Cobain), but I’m glad that I was at least able to find out where it was and get a glimpse of it while it was still standing.  Now I can’t help but think of Joan every time I’m at Woodward and East Grand Boulevard.