Miriam Hopkins

Pre-Code Essentials: Design For Living (1933)

Design for Living Hopkins March Cooper

Plot

After commercial artist Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins) meets aspiring playwright Thomas Chambers (Fredric March) and artist George Curtis (Gary Cooper) on a train, the three of them hit it off with each other very well. Thomas and George are best friends and live together, working on their respective art forms. Unbeknownst to each other, they each start having an affair with Gilda. When they realize what’s been going on, Gilda announces that she can’t decide between the two men, so she’d rather serve as a platonic muse to both of them. However, nobody follows through with the “platonic” part of their arrangement.

With Gilda’s help, Tom’s play is produced and becomes a big hit. But with so much of Tom’s attentions on his play, George and Gilda have time to pursue their affair, which inspires him to become a successful artist. It isn’t long before Tom and George realize that Gilda has continued having affairs with both of them, there is some initial anger, but before anything else can happen, Gilda leaves both of them to marry her dull boss Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton).

Not long after her marriage to Max, Tom and George pay a visit to Gilda and find her deeply bored with her new role in life. Being Max’s wife is positively mind-numbing to her and she misses the days of having affairs with both George and Tom.


My Thoughts

Ernst Lubitsch was responsible for directing many great pre-codes, but Design for Living is the most risqué of them all. It’s a perfectly witty, stylish, sophisticated cinematic concoction that certainly would have left conservative types clutching their pearls. And who can blame Gilda for being forced to choose between men played by Gary Cooper and Fredric March? I love this movie.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

Basically, the entire movie is one big pre-code moment.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

When a movie’s entire plot is  hinges around ideas that would have been very strictly forbidden just a year later, that automatically earns it a spot pretty high on any list of essential pre-codes. In a lot of other pre-codes, objectionable scenes might have been removed as deemed necessary by local censors. That couldn’t happen with Design for Living since its shock factor is built into the story. A movie ending with three people deciding a three-way relationship is right for them, especially when one of them is openly rejecting a traditional marriage in favor of this three-way relationship, would still be pretty eyebrow raising by today’s standards.

Pre-Code Essentials: The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

The Story of Temple Drake Miriam Hopkins

Plot

Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) is the granddaughter of a prominent Alabama judge, which lets her get away with lots of wild behavior. She has a reputation for being a party girl and for cavorting with lots of men, but all the men in town know she’s all talk and no action. She could settle down and marry respectable Stephen Benbow (William Gargan), but she’d much rather live the high life. At a dance, Temple turns down Stephen’s marriage proposal to go for a ride with a drunk Toddy Gowan (William Collier, Jr.) instead.

After Toddy crashes the car, the weather starts getting bad and they are forced to take shelter at a dilapidated mansion occupied by bootleggers Lee Goodwin (Irving Pechel), Trigger (Jack La Rue), and their entourage. Todd wants another drink so he leaves Temple alone to go play cards with the bootleggers. Temple has a horribly uneasy feeling about that place and desperately wants to leave, but has no way to get home. To stay safe, Lee’s wife Ruby (Florence Eldridge) suggests that Temple sleep in the barn with Tommy (James Eagles) guarding her. But that doesn’t stop Trigger from murdering Tommy, raping Temple, and forcing her to come with him to a brothel in another town.

Back at home, Temple’s absence is explained by saying she’s visiting family, but most of the people in town don’t believe it. When Stephen is appointed to defend Lee, who is accused of murdering Tommy, he goes to serve Trigger with a subpoena and finds Temple being forced to be his girlfriend. He tries to convince Temple to leave, but she refuses. Once Stephen is gone, Temple tries to make a break for it and when Trigger tries to rape her again, she shoots him. When Temple gets back home, she arrives just in time for Lee’s murder trial.


My Thoughts

Have you ever seen a Miriam Hopkins movie before? If your answer is no, then you need to see The Story of Temple Drake ASAP! She was one of the great pre-code actresses, but in Temple Drake, she gives a real tour de force performance. This is a role that gave her a lot of complexity to work with and allowed her to demonstrate so much range. This movie is a big reason why I think Miriam Hopkins is vastly under-appreciated as an actress.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

The rape scene.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Over the course of this essential pre-code series, I’ve written about a lot of movies that are about fallen women and Temple Drake is quite possibly the ultimate fallen woman story. In the beginning of the movie, she’s dancing around dangerously close to the edge, but when she falls, she falls hard. I love how The Story of Temple Drake doesn’t shy away from showing how completely terrifying the situations she finds herself in are and how reprehensible Trigger is. This movie goes way beyond being gritty and gets absolutely filthy.

Pre-Code Essentials: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Trouble in Paradise

Plot

When pickpocket Lily (Miriam Hopkins) meets notorious thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall), it’s love at first heist. They meet in Venice, where they are each posing as nobility in order to rob rich people. After they take turns robbing each other blind, Lily and Gaston fall madly in love and become partners in crime. As they steal their way to Paris, they set their sights on robbing perfumer Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis). While at the opera one night, Gaston steals an extremely valuable purse Colet had been carrying and when she offers a reward for its return, Lily and Gaston decide they’d get more money by returning it.

As Gaston goes to return the purse and collect the reward, he pretends to be Gaston Lavalle and charms his way into becoming Colet’s personal secretary so he can have easy access to her money. Lily naturally becomes Gaston’s assistant and isn’t impressed when she realizes there’s a romantic spark between Gaston and Colet. Even though Colet doesn’t believe in marriage and has turned down many other suitors, she can’t resist Gaston. But it isn’t long before some of Colet’s colleagues begin to realize that here new secretary looks awfully familiar…


My Thoughts

Lubitsch. Hopkins. Francis. Can you ask for any better ingredients for a delightful pre-code comedy? Trouble in Paradise is the cinematic equivalent of drinking a glass of champagne. It’s sharp, witty, light, and oh so sophisticated. This is definitely one of the all-time great comedies; it’s always a pleasure to revisit this one.

1932 was truly the year for Kay Francis to make witty movies where her character falls in love with thieves. This was the same year she made Jewel Robbery with William Powell, where her character falls madly in love with the thief who comes to rob the jewelry store she’s shopping in.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

As Lily and Gaston have dinner together in Venice and essentially seduce each other by robbing each other, particularly when he reveals he’s stolen the garter right off her leg.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

So far this month, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about movies where you end up rooting for the criminals, even though censors didn’t want moviegoers to be rooting for the criminals. Trouble in Paradise may very well be one of the ultimate examples of that. Lily and Gaston aren’t even thieves who are sorry for what they do or steal out of desperation, they steal for the sheer pleasure of it. But Trouble in Paradise‘s writing is so incredibly witty and the premise is presented in such an outrageous way, it’s easy to want to go along for the ride. The love triangle aspect of the plot was also pretty racy by 1932′s standards.

Pre-Code Essentials: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931

Plot

Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March) is a very highly respected doctor in London and is extremely dedicated to his patients. He also believes that deep down, every human being has the capability of being both good and evil. When he isn’t tending to his patients, Dr. Jekyll develops a potion that unleashes the ugly, evil side of his personality, which physically manifests as a wolf-like creature named Mr. Hyde.

Acting as Mr. Hyde, he goes down to the tavern where Ivy (Miriam Hopkins) works. He promises to give her anything she needs if she keeps him company. While Dr. Jekyll is extremely kind and had helped Ivy in the past, Mr. Hyde is extremely controlling and abusive. Ivy is absolutely terrified of Mr. Hyde and while he’s gone, Ivy’s landlady suggests that she go see Dr. Jekyll for help with getting away from Mr. Hyde. When Dr. Jekyll realizes how his alter ego has hurt Ivy so, he vows to never take the potion again, but Mr. Hyde begins reappearing without the potion and Mr. Hyde kills Ivy. As Dr. Jekyll, he repents for how his experiments have interfered with God’s will and breaks off his engagement to Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart) as penance, but it isn’t enough to spare Muriel from being exposed to the horrors of Mr. Hyde.


My Thoughts

Easily one of the finest horror movies ever produced. The Academy Awards have a reputation for snubbing horror and science fiction movies, but even they couldn’t ignore the brilliance of Fredric March’s performance. As great as Fredric March is in it, his makeup is equally incredible. Not only is the make-up he wears as Mr. Hyde truly astonishing, I love how they showed his transition from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. It’s without a doubt one of the greatest makeup jobs ever committed to celluloid.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

Miriam Hopkins’ long, drawn-out striptease.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Miriam Hopkins’ striptease after being rescued by Dr. Jekyll is easily one of the most notorious scenes in pre-code history. I think it’s been included in virtually every compilation I’ve ever seen of clips showcasing the sort of things you could get away with during the pre-code era.

Pre-Code Essentials: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

The Smiling Lieutenant

Plot

Austrian Royal Guard Lieutenant Niki von Preyn (Maurice Chevalier) is madly in love with violinist Franzi (Claudette Colbert), but when the royal family from Flausenthurm comes to town, Niki winks at Franzi as the royals are moving through town and Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) sees it and thinks it was directed at her. She is insulted and the whole incident causes quite the scandal. But when Niki convinces Anna that he couldn’t help himself because she was so beautiful, she insists on marrying Niki right away and he is forced to go along with it.

Being a married man does nothing to make Niki forget about Franzi and they continue to see each other in secret. When Anna finds out what’s been going on, she plans to confront Franzi about it. But when Franzi realizes how much Anna loves Niki, she gives Anna a makeover to make her more appealing to Niki.


My Thoughts

Ernst Lubitsch is one of those directors whose movies never seem to completely let me down and The Smiling Lieutenant is one of my favorites of his. It’s just so…Lubitsch. It’s extremely witty, sophisticated, and has that unmistakably lightness that was Lubitsch’s trademark. Chevalier, Colbert, and of course, Hopkins are just so perfect for his style of direction and the movie’s sharp writing. It’s a really wonderful, delightful little comedy.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

The Smiling Lieutenant is easily the most fun I’ve ever seen a movie have with the subject of marital infidelity. Only in the pre-code era could you get away with making a comedy that involves a wife confronting her husband’s other woman and the two women end up singing a song together about jazzing up their lingerie.

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!

(more…)

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.