Miriam Hopkins

What’s on TCM: October 2012

October is upon us and that can only mean one thing — classic horror movies!  TCM certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department; every Wednesday night in October will be full of great horror movies to help you get into the Halloween spirit.  In addition to the great horror movies, there’s also a great Star of the Month — Spencer Tracy.  Every Monday night this month will be all about Spencer, but his movies also carry over into every Tuesday as well.

On Tuesday nights, TCM will be doing a series called “The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film,” which will examine how people with physical and mental disabilities have been portrayed in film.

One night that certainly sounds intriguing is the night of October 21st, a night full of animation rarities.  There will be selections of UPA cartoons as well as many cartoons from the silent film era, dating back as early as 1907!  I know I’m certainly looking forward to seeing those!

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The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

Niki von Preyn (Maurice Chevalier) is a Lieutenant in the Austrian Royal Guard.  One night, Max (Charlie Ruggles) asks Niki to join him at the beer garden to see Franzi (Claudette Colbert), a violin player, perform.  Even though Max is married, he’s got a thing for Franzi and thinks that having Niki along will make their date seem more legitimate.  But as soon as Niki sets eye on Franzi, he instantly falls in love with her and convinces Max that she is all wrong for him so he can have her all for himself.  Niki and Franzi’s relationship turns very passionate very quickly.

A wrench gets thrown into their relationship when the King of Flausenthurm and his daughter Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) come to Vienna.  Niki joins his fellow soldiers for their procession into town and Franzi watches on across the street from Niki.  Niki can’t resist giving Franzi a smile and a wink, but he does it just as the King and Princess Anna pass by.  Anna notices and since she isn’t the prettiest princess ever, assumes Niki is mocking her.  The incident makes all the headlines and when Niki is brought in to be disciplined, he tries to get out of this mess by saying that he was just so in awe of Anna’s beauty that he couldn’t help himself.  Flattery will get you everywhere with these royals and all is forgiven.  In fact, the King even arranges it so that Niki will be close to them for the rest of their visit, much to Anna’s delight.

Niki continues to secretly see Franzi, but Anna has developed very strong feelings for Niki.  In fact, she even goes as far as getting permission to marry him.  When Niki finds out about this, he is shocked and can’t figure out a way to get out of this mess.  With his relationship with Franzi now over, he goes ahead with his marriage to Anna.  But Anna is so uptight, dowdy, and dull that when he finds out that Franzi is in town, he starts seeing her again secretly.  When Anna finds out about this, she is very upset and wants to meet with Franzi.  Although Anna initially wants to kill Franzi, she realizes that Franzi would be a great person to get advice from on how to make Niki happy.  The two of them end up hitting it off and Franzi gives Anna some tips on modernizing her look and their visit ends with them singing a song called “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” together. Franzi’s advice proves to be a big success and Anna and Niki live happily ever after.

The Smiling Lieutenant is another one of those delightful Ernst Lubitsch pre-codes.  Super stylish, sophisticated, witty, and well acted.  The whole movie is so much fun to watch, but it’s worth seeing if only for the wonderful scene where Anna goes to confront Franzi, the sing their song, and Anna has her makeover.  It’s just so outrageous in the best possible way.  This is the kind of thing you could only get away with in the pre-code era.  Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins are such a riot together!  I love Miriam Hopkins in just about anything, but she was never better than when she was in Ernst Lubitsch comedies.

Trouble In Paradise (1932)

If you want to steal from wealthy people, you have to get close to wealthy people.  And what’s the best way to get close to wealthy people?  Pretend to be a fellow wealthy person!  That’s just what Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) does when he goes to Venice.  While pretending to be a Baron, he steals from plenty of prominent guests, including a countess named Lily (Miriam Hopkins).  Only Lily isn’t really a countess, she’s also a thief so she recognizes what Gaston is really there for.  He had her pegged, too, after she swiped his wallet.  The two of them are so impressed with each other’s thieving skills that they fall madly in love with each other on the spot.

Lily and Gaston are quite the crooks and they steal their way across Europe.  While in Paris, they steal a diamond-studded handbag belonging to Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), the owner of a very famous perfume company.  But when Mariette puts out an ad offering a 20,000 Franc reward for the bag’s return, they realize they’d make more by turning it in than by selling it and Gaston goes to turn it in.  But when Gaston gets there and realizes that Mariette is awfully careless with her money, he convinces her to hire him as her secretary, planning to embezzle money from her company.  The plan works and Lily even gets hired on as Gaston’s assistant.  The only thing that doesn’t go according to plan is that Gaston and Mariette fall in love with each other.

Eventually, Mariette starts bringing Gaston along with her to social gatherings, but some of Mariette’s wealthy friends recognize Gaston.  Plus people in the company are starting to suspect that Gaston has been stealing money for them.  Even though her friends warn her about him, Mariette doesn’t want to give up on Gaston.  Meanwhile, Gaston and Lily are planning to skip town, but Gaston is torn between staying with Mariette or leaving with Lily.  The last thing they had planned to steal was 100,000 Francs from her safe, but before they leave, Gaston decides to come clean to Mariette about who he is and what he was really there to do.  Lily interrupts his confession to announce that she is the one who has stolen the 100,000 Francs and that Mariette is welcome to have Gaston for that price and leaves Gaston to decide who he wants to be with.

I positively adore Trouble in Paradise.  It’s sharp, witty, got plenty of lavish sets, and a top-notch cast.  There’s no going wrong with Miriam Hopkins in an Ernst Lubitsch comedy, but when you add in Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall, plus Charlie Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton in some supporting roles, you’ve got cinematic gold.  I just love everything about it.  Trouble in Paradise is total pre-code and pure Ernst Lubitsch.

The Children’s Hour (1961)

Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) have been friends since they were teenagers.  They both decided to become teachers, and after they graduated from college, the two of them opened a private boarding school for girls.  After years of hard work, their school finally starts to turn a profit and Karen finally agrees to marry her fiance Dr. Joe Cardin (James Garner).  However, Karen’s decision is bittersweet to Martha.  She wants Karen to be happy, but is afraid of losing her best friend and that she will leave the school once she gets married.  Martha’s jealousy leads to her getting in an argument with her aunt and fellow teacher Lily Mortar (Miriam Hopkins), who tells Martha that her devotion to her friend is unnatural.

But every school has its problem children.  In this case, it’s Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin).  Mary is constantly getting into trouble and when Karen punishes her by not letting her go to some boat races that weekend, Mary gets back at her by telling her wealthy grandmother Amelia Tilford (Fay Bainter) that Karen and Martha are lovers.  She invented this story based on what her friends overheard of Martha and Lily’s argument and threw in some bits from a scandalous book she and her friends have been secretly reading.  Amelia is absolutely horrified, pulls Mary from the school, and calls all the other parents and gets them to do the same.

Karen and Martha don’t understand why all the students are leaving, and when they’re clued in, Karen, Martha, and Joe try to confront Amelia and Mary.  Joe questions Mary and even though he clearly catches her lying, Mary drags her friend Rosalie into the lie and Amelia sides with them.  Karen and Martha sue her for slander, but the case ends up being dragged into the media, they lose their case, and they become outcasts in town.  Joe proudly stands by Karen and Martha through the whole ordeal, but eventually, all the rumors make him question the truth.  Even Martha begins to wonder if the rumors were true.  Eventually, the truth does come out, but no amount of money from Mrs. Tilford can fix the damage that has been done.

I absolutely adored The Children’s Hour.  Exceptionally well written and beautifully acted all around, Shirley MacLaine particularly hit it right out of the park.  Her performance was truly compelling, heartfelt, and tragic.  This was a movie way ahead of its time and is still hugely relevant today.  Movies that deal with the ramifications of gossip were definitely nothing new in 1961, but I was impressed to see a movie deal with homophobia so frankly while the production codes were still in force.  Actually, this isn’t the first film adaptation of The Children’s Hour.  In 1936, it had been made into the movie These Three starring Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, and Joel McCrea.  But since the production codes were enforced much more strictly in 1936, they had to change the story to be about a love triangle between Martha, Karen, and Joe.  They couldn’t even use the original name because it was so tied to the original Lillian Hellman play.  I’ve never seen These Three, although now I’d like to, but The Children’s Hour is a very worthwhile movie.

The Chase (1966)

It’s never a small event when there’s a prison break.  But for the town of Tarl, Texas, it proves to be a life altering event for many of its residents when Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford) and another inmate make a break for it.  While they’re running, the other convict kills a passing motorist, steals his clothes and his car and leaves Bubber on his own.  However, Bubber has just enough time to accidentally leave his fingerprints at the scene of the crime.  He starts running for it, but finds himself headed in the direction of his hometown, Tarl.  Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) doesn’t expect him to come home, but the rest of the town isn’t so sure.  In such a small town, news of Bubber’s escape spreads like wildfire and it’s all anyone can talk about.  Everyone is speculating about where he’ll go next.  However, a few people in town have good reasons to be worried that Bubber might be coming after them.  There’s his best friend Jake Rogers (James Fox), who has been having an affair with Bubber’s wife Anna (Jane Fonda).  Then there’s Edwin Stewart (Robert Duvall), who once got Bubber sent to reform school for something he didn’t do.  Years later, Edwin’s wife Emily (Janice Rule) told Bubber the truth about what happened and he wasn’t happy.  Virtually the only person who has stood by Bubber is Mrs. Reeves (Miriam Hopkins), his mother.

When Bubber finds his old friend Lester while hiding in a junk yard, he sends Lester to find Anna and have her bring him some money and clothes.  While trying to find Anna, Lester is arrested.  Sheriff Calder finds Anna and Jake and brings them to see Lester in jail.  After their visit, Calder knows that Lester had just told Anna where to find Bubber, so they make a deal where she gets an hour to find Bubber and convince him to come to the station and surrender.  With all the town worked up and ready to hunt Bubber down, it’s the only way he could be brought back to prison safely.  Now, Sheriff Calder has a vested interest in seeing that this situation to be handled peacefully.  The whole town seems to think Calder is working for wealthy businessman Val Rogers only and Val is paying him to kill Bubber to protect Jake since Jake is having an affair with Anna.  But word travels fast in Tarl and a when word gets out that Bubber is in the junkyard, they gather around to drive him out.  Of course, the situation quickly spins out of control and literally becomes explosive.

The Chase is one of those movies where you look at the cast and think there’s no way that movie could go wrong.  But then you start watching it and you quickly realize that it has, indeed, somehow managed to go wrong.  When I was trying to decide which movie I wanted to watch and review for today, I was looking up some of the movies on IMDB and when I saw this one had a cast of Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickinson, and Miriam Hopkins, plus direction from Arthur Penn and was based on a Lillian Hellman play, I was definitely sold by the sheer amount of star power involved.  It’s too bad that once I actually started watching it, I found it really dull.  It moved slowly and there were a lot of times where I found myself looking at the clock and getting frustrated that it had only been ten minutes since I last looked at the clock.  For all the fantastic stars in this, the only performance that stood out to me was from Miriam Hopkins.  This simply isn’t a quintessential Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, or Robert Redford movie.

As far as I can tell, the main problem most likely came from producer Sam Spiegel meddling in ways he really shouldn’t have.  He got Lillian Hellman to write a script for the movie version, but then had it rewritten (although Lillian still got credited as the screenwriter) and wouldn’t even let her see the final cut before it was released.  Then he wouldn’t let Arthur Penn do the editing himself, so this movie doesn’t fully reflect Arthur Penn’s vision.  Maybe if Lillian Hellman and Arthur Penn had been given more control, it might have been improved.  But ultimately, if you missed this one on TCM yesterday, you really didn’t miss much.

Design for Living (1933)

Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and George Curtis (Gary Cooper) are a couple of artistic best friends.  Tom is a playwright and George is a painter.  They may not be rich, but they’re happy living together in their dingy apartment.  But all that changes when they meet Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins), an artist working for an advertising agency, on a train trip.  She immediately hits it off with both of them and the duo becomes a trio.  However, Tom and George both fall in love with Gilda and Gilda loves both of them back.  When Tom and George realize this, they agree to try to forget about Gilda, but that doesn’t last long.  The thing is, Gilda can’t decide who she loves more so she suggests that she move in with both of them so she can make up her mind.

When Gilda moves in, she helps the guys out by criticizing their work and inspiring them to be more creative.  She takes one of Tom’s plays and gives it to a producer, who agrees to produce it in London.  While in London, just as Tom is dictating a letter to Gilda and George about how much he’s looking forward to seeing them again, he gets word that Gilda has chosen George over him.  Even though Tom is heartbroken, his play goes on to become a huge success.  One night, he runs into Gilda’s former employer and wannabe lover Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), who tells Tom that George has become a successful painter.  Tom goes to Paris to see George, only to find he has moved to a swanky penthouse and that George is out-of-town working on a portrait.  He’s told he can talk to George’s secretary, who turns out to be Gilda.  Gilda and Tom quickly rekindle their romance and he spends the night at their place.  They are quite surprised when George returns a few days earlier than expected and immediately figures out what happened and throws both of them out.  But before Tom and Gilda can leave, she writes each of them a farewell letter and runs off to marry Max.

With Gilda out of the picture, Tom and George become good friends again.  However, once Gilda is married, she loathes having to entertain Max’s clients and playing inane party games.  The night Max is having a very important party for his clients, Tom and George decide to crash the party and hide up in Gilda’s bedroom.  When she escapes from the party and finds them there, the three of them have a great time telling stories and laughing.  After Max comes in and finds them, he throws them out, but they just go downstairs and start a big fight with the guests.  Gilda decides to leave Max and heads out with Tom and George to resume their old lifestyle.

I adored Design for Living!  Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins had real chemistry together, they were absolutely delightful to watch.  With Gary Cooper and Fredric March both at their most handsome, who can blame Miriam Hopkins for having a hard time choosing between the two?  The writing is smart, witty, and sophisticated, even if it was drastically rewritten from the original Noel Coward play.  Only one line from the original play made its way into the movie.  And with Ernst Lubitsch in the director’s chair, it’s got that infamous sleek, stylish touch.  I loved everything about it.  If you’ve never seen it before, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Story of Temple Drake (1933)


Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) is known about town as a fast and loose party girl, but all the men in town know she’s really all talk and no action.  She’s got a suitor in lawyer Stephen Benbow (William Gargan), who has repeatedly asked Temple to marry him, but she doesn’t want to give up her hard partying lifestyle.  She’s also the granddaughter of the town judge, which gets her out of a lot of trouble.  It also helps that her grandfather remains completely oblivious to her wild lifestyle.  One night, she goes out to a party and ends up leaving with Toddy Gowan (William Collier, Jr.) to go get a drink.  Toddy drives even though he’s already been drinking and he ends up wrecking the car.  Stranded, they are met by gangster Lee Gowan, who brings them to a dilapidated mansion full of bootleggers.  The couple is forced to stay there, even though Temple really, really doesn’t want to stay.  She tries to stay in the kitchen with Lee’s wife Ruby, but Ruby doesn’t like her being there because she thinks Temple is trying to steal Lee’s affections.  Unwelcome in the kitchen, Temple tries to go out with the bootleggers.  When a bootlegger tries to make a pass at her, Toddy tries to defend her, but between the head injury he got in the accident and the fact that he’s still drunk, he’s of little help.  Lee, on the other hand, does defend her.  Ruby suggests Temple go sleep in the barn so the men won’t bother her.  She does, and even though the men leave her alone during the night, Trigger comes in the next morning and shoots Tommy, who is supposed to be protecting her, then rapes Temple.  He takes her with him to a brothel and forces her to be his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, Tommy’s murder is under investigation and who else but Stephen is assigned to the case.  Lee is reluctant to name Trigger as the murderer, but Ruby is more than willing to name names and even tells Stephen where to find him.  When Stephen  shows up at the brothel to serve Trigger with a court summons, he’s shocked to find Temple with him.  He tries to get her to leave with him, but to protect Stephen, she tells him that she came with Trigger on her own free will.  Stephen believes it and gives both of them summonses and leaves.  Temple then tries to escape and in the ensuing tussle, she shoots and kills Trigger.  She gets away and heads back to town, where she begs Stephen not to question her in the trial.  Her grandfather also begs him to not put her on the stand, but he does anyway.  However, once he gets her up there, he doesn’t have the heart to interrogate her like he planned to.  However, she finally cracks under the pressure and confesses to everything: what happened the night of the party, witnessing Trigger kill Tommy, being raped, and killing Trigger herself.

The Story of Temple Drake is one of the most scandalous of all the pre-codes, with good reason.  Very few movies deal with the subject of rape as frankly as The Story of Temple Drake.   The only other one I can think of off-hand is Anatomy of a Murder.  Not to mention it has all the classic pre-code elements of a loose woman, gangsters, murder, and violence against women.  When it was first released, it was banned in Ohio and Pennsylvania and it ultimately went completely unseen again until the 1950s.  If they tried to re-make this today, I’m sure it’d still create a huge stir.

I thought The Story of Temple Drake was quite fascinating.  Miriam Hopkins was excellent in it, especially in the scenes following the rape.  I loved that scene where Trigger is driving her away to the brothel and she just sat there with this look of absolute defeat on her face.  To see her go from being a carefree, free-spirited party girl to apparently suffering from Stockholm Syndrome after being raped so effortlessly is really quite remarkable.  I also found the structure of the movie to be quite interesting because it starts out looking like it’ll be a run of the mill pre-code, but then the script suddenly takes on the tone of a horror film.  I felt like I should have watched this a few weeks ago around Halloween.  A couple getting stranded with car problems on a rainy night and are forced into staying the night in a run-down old mansion full of sinister people sure sounds like the beginning of a lot of horror movies.  That’s not even getting into how horrific of a character Trigger is.  Not only is he an awful character, they kept showing him with an evil look on his face in tight close-ups that were really rather terrifying.

The Story of Temple Drake is still a rather hard to find movie, it’s not available on DVD.  At the time of writing this, it is up on YouTube.   If you have any interest in pre-codes at all, it’s absolutely worth tracking down.  It definitely lives up to its reputation of being one of the most infamous pre-codes of all time.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

I’m pretty sure everyone has a general idea of what Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is all about: a doctor invents a concoction that turns him into an evil creature.  But if you’d like to be more specific, Fredric March plays Dr. Jekyll, a kind and respected scientist who believes that all people have good and evil sides to them.  So Dr. Jekyll comes up with a potion which he believes will bring out the evil side of the person who drinks it.  Sure enough, the potion works and when Dr. Jekyll takes it, he becomes the hideous beast, Mr. Hyde.  As Mr. Hyde, he pays a visit to Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins), a barmaid and prostitute Dr. Jekyll had helped out earlier.  Mr. Hyde tries to come onto Ivy, and even though Ivy is terrified of Mr. Hyde, she can’t refuse his offer to take care of her.  When Dr. Jekyll realizes what he’s done to her as Mr. Hyde, he sends Ivy some money.  Ivy then visits Dr. Jekyll to personally thank him and begs him to protect her from Mr. Hyde.  Dr. Jekyll agrees to help her, but unfortunately, he soon begins turning into Mr. Hyde without even taking the potion.  As Mr. Hyde, he goes to see Ivy again and strangles her to death.  When he goes back to being Dr. Jekyll again, he vows to never make the potion again and decides to give up his fiancée Muriel (Rose Hobart) to punish himself.  But when he goes to call off his engagement to Muriel, he turns back into Mr. Hyde and attacks Muriel.  Muriel is saved, but Mr. Hyde runs back to Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory, where he is cornered by police.

The Academy Awards have always been a bit snobby when it comes to horror films, but I’m glad to see they were able to set that aside for once and give Fredric March the Best Actor Oscar because he really deserved it.  He played both roles superbly.  Well, actually that year was considered a tie between him and Wallace Beery in The Champ, even though  Fredric had one more vote than Beery.  The Academy just figured it was close enough to be a tie.  I also loved Miriam Hopkins’ performance, it’s really too bad she couldn’t be nominated for an Oscar for it.  A lot of her performance had to be cut out when it was released because of censorship, but I thought the scenes of her being terrorized by Mr. Hyde were outstanding.  She managed to get just the right mix of vulnerable and terrified.  Although one of her scenes is one of the most unmistakably pre-code scenes of all time:

This version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as a whole, is simply remarkable.  Not only for Fredric March’s and Miriam Hopkins’ acting performances, but the direction by Rouben Mamoulian, the cinematography, and the special effects.  It truly is a high note in horror films.