Raiders of the Lost Films: London After Midnight (1927)

Lon Chaney London After Midnight

In 1927, Lon Chaney was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, having made several on-screen triumphs in movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Oliver Twist, and The Phantom of the Opera, which remain some of the most celebrated performances and films of the silent era. After having starred alongside Norma Shearer and John Gilbert in 1924’s He Who Gets Slapped, the first film ever fully produced by the then newly-formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Chaney began working under contract to MGM the following year and would remain at the studio for the final five years of his career. During his time at MGM, he starred in several of the most memorable movies of his career, including two versions of The Unholy ThreeTell It to the MarinesThe Unknown, and Laugh, Clown, Laugh. But while many of the movies he made at MGM are still available and are shown on Turner Classic Movies, perhaps the most notorious of them all is one we can’t see: London After Midnight.

No series about lost films would be complete without discussion of London After Midnight. 90 years after its release, it is now widely regarded as the holy grail of lost films. The last known print of the film was destroyed in an MGM vault fire during the 1960s. (There seems to be some debate over whether the fire happened in 1965 or 1967.) The vault when up in flames when an electrical fire broke out, destroying London After Midnight along with original prints of several other early MGM titles, including movies made prior to MGM’s 1924 formation, some Our Gang shorts, original versions of Tom and Jerry cartoons, the color sequence from The Broadway Melody, the uncut version of Laurel and Hardy’s Blotto, and The Divine Woman, the only lost Greta Garbo film.

London After Midnight Lobby Card

In London After Midnight, Lon Chaney plays Scotland Yard inspector Edward C. Burke, who is called to investigate the death of Roger Balfour. Balfour’s friend, James Hamlin (Henry B. Walthall), is convinced Balfour would never kill himself and Burke initially has his doubts about Hamlin’s nephew Arthur (Conrad Nagel), but since a suicide note is found, in which Balfour asks his daughter Lucille (Marceline Day) to forgive him, the case isn’t investigated any further.

Five years later, Balfour’s former home is being inhabited by a bizarre looking man with sharp teeth and a beaver hat (also played by Lon Chaney), along with two corpse-like female companions. When the new maid (Polly Moran) arrives, she’s convinced they’re vampires and directly responsible for the death of Balfour. Burke and Hamlin then realize the lease for the new, odd tenants is signed by none other than Balfour. After Lucille reports hearing the voice of her father calling to her, Burke and Hamlin discover that Balfour’s corpse is missing from its tomb and when they look inside the house, they see what appears to be Balfour having a conversation with the man in the beaver hat. At this point, Burke decides to use hypnosis to solve the case once and for all.

Upon its release in 1927, London After Midnight became one of the highest grossing films of the year. Out of all the films Chaney and Browning made together, London After Midnight was the most financially successful. Despite all of the hype that’s built around the movie over the years, it was hardly hailed as a masterpiece. Initial reviews were pretty mixed. Variety said of it:

“Will add nothing to Chaney’s prestige as a trouper, nor increase the star’s box office value. With Chaney’s name in lights, however, this picture, any picture with Chaney, means a strong box office draw. Young, Browning and Chaney have made a good combination in the past but the story on which this production is based is not of the quality that results in broken house records.”

The New York Times wasn’t terribly impressed with it, either:

“It is a somewhat incoherent narrative, which, however, gives Lon Chaney an opportunity to turn up in an uncanny disguise and also to manifest his powers as Scotland Yard’s expert hypnotist. You are therefore treated to close-ups of Mr. Chaney’s rolling orbs, which, fortunately, do not exert their influence on the audience.”

The New Yorker also had issues with the film’s plot:

“Mr. Browning can create pictorial terrors and Lon Chaney can get himself up in a completely repulsive manner, but both their efforts are wasted when the story makes no sense.”

In the 2000 documentary Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces, interviewees who had seen London After Midnight also commented they felt it wasn’t that great of a movie. Historian H.A.V. Bulleid stated that he thought people would be very disappointed if they actually saw London After Midnight, while Mary Hunt, a moviegoer in the 1920s, said it was so fantastic and unreal it couldn’t be taken seriously, but the makeup was remarkable. Forest Ackerman seemed to be the most enthusiastic about it, saying that he believed Groucho Marx modeled his slouching walk after the walk of the man in the beaver hat.

Lon Chaney  Man in Beaver Hat London After MidnightHad prints of London After Midnight remained in circulation over the years, is it possible that the film might have eventually undergone a critical re-evaluation at some point? Maybe, but at this point, it hardly seems relevant to even ponder it. The fact that it’s been missing for about 50 years now has helped cement its legacy as one of Hollywood’s most notorious movies in a way that no amount of praise from film critics ever could.

It’s not hard to understand why London After Midnight is such a sought-after movie. This is a movie that involved two of the biggest icons of the horror genre: Lon Chaney and Tod Browning. Don’t get me wrong — finding any lost Lon Chaney movie at all would be huge news in the film world. But a lost film that involves these two legends together makes it that much of a bigger deal. Even if it’s not such a great movie, it’s awfully hard not to at least be intrigued by the idea of getting to see Lon Chaney in a double role. And Chaney wasn’t the only one to have a double role, so to speak. Beyond his role as director, Tod Browning also wrote The Hypnotist, the short story the movie was based on.

Chaney and Browning are hardly the only noteworthy people to be involved with London After Midnight, either. It also starred some other actors whose names are likely to be familiar to fans of silent films and early talkies, like Marceline Day, Conrad Nagel, and Polly Moran. So whether you’re a fan of classic film in general or are just a big fan of horror movies in particular, London After Midnight truly occupies an important place in film history.

Another aspect of the London After Midnight mythology is the fact that the film became entangled in a murder case. In London’s Hyde Park on October 23, 1928, a man named Robert Williams was arrested for the murder of Julia Magnan. Upon his arrest, he told police that he’d done it because she was teasing him and that in an epileptic fit, he’d been taunted by a vision of Lon Chaney as he appeared in London After Midnight. Although Williams was initially sentenced to death, his sentence was later changed to allow him to serve his sentence at an asylum instead. So as if it weren’t enough that London After Midnight is famous for being lost, the fact that it was once blamed for driving a man to madness brings a whole different level of intrigue to the whole thing.

Although London After Midnight is not known to exist in its original form, it is still possible to get an idea of what it was like. In 2002, Turner Classic Movies produced a reconstructed version of the movie following the original script and using existing film stills. This version runs about 45 minutes and still occasionally airs on the channel. It was also included as a bonus feature in the Lon Chaney Collection released on the TCM Archive label in 2003, but that set now appears to be out of print. It was also remade in 1935 as The Mark of the Vampire, starring Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi.

The important thing to remember is that although London After Midnight is now considered a lost film, there is still hope that a copy of it may be discovered someday. Over the years, there have been numerous rumors about prints of it being found, but unfortunately, those have turned out to be unsubstantiated. But there are several other cases of thought-to-be-lost films being found in archives and private collections. Even among the titles believed to be casualties of the 1965/1967 MGM vault fire alone, copies of some of those have turned up over the years. One of the most noteworthy examples would be 1922’s The Toll of the Sea, the second Technicolor feature to be made in Hollywood. Although it was thought to have been lost in the fire, the original camera negative was eventually found, minus the final two reels, and was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in 1985, complete with newly-shot footage to replicate the missing footage. Perhaps, one day we will be able to tell a similar tale for London After Midnight.

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Joan Crawford: My Way of Life

Joan Crawford My Way of LifeI’ve been a big Joan Crawford fan for many years and while I’ve managed to see many of her movies, until recently, I’d only heard about a book she published in 1971 titled My Way of Life. Every once in a while, I’d come across an article listing some of the more over the top quotes and lifestyle tips, which helped the book earn something of a cult following in the decades since its publication. Now, I love Joan Crawford and I love kooky lifestyle tips, so I was intrigued.

Recently, Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood did a review of the book and mentioned that an audiobook version recorded by Joan was posted on YouTube so of course, I had to check it out. I went in expecting major outrageousness, but you know what? I was actually kind of underwhelmed by it in that respect. In fact, I genuinely liked it.

That’s not to say it isn’t over the top in some respects. Of course its; it was written by a woman who lived most of her life in the public eye. Joan Crawford is very famously quoted as saying, “If you want to see the girl next door, go next door,” and she certainly never pretends to be the girl next door here. She lived her life on a bigger scale than most people ever will and the advice she gives reflects that, but that’s going to be the case with any given celebrity lifestyle book. Nobody expects readers of these types of books to take every bit of advice literally. But what you can do is find ways to make their advice work for your life and Joan actually had some legitimately good tips.

My favorite section of the book dealt with fashion and style. She was a big believer in the idea that everyone should develop their own personal style that makes them feel confident and suits their lifestyle. Not everyone is going to share Joan’s enthusiasm for hats, but you can’t really argue with those core fashion beliefs. It was also really interesting to hear her talk about how hard it was for her to buy off-the-rack clothing. One might think that designers would be lining up to get someone like Joan Crawford in their clothes, but she said she was never able to just walk into a designer’s shop and buy things off the rack because the available sizes were just too small for her. Now, I was expecting a lot of things from My Way of Life, but hearing that Joan struggled with stores not carrying clothes in her size was not one of them. In fact, that may have been the single most relatable thing Joan Crawford has ever said.

Compared to some of the things you hear about the lifestyles of today’s celebrities, a lot of Joan’s advice is actually sensible in comparison. When I got to the part about diet and exercise, I thought that’s where a lot of over the top stuff would come up, but that was not the case. While she was clearly disciplined about what she ate and how much she ate, she called out extreme dieting as being unhealthy. In the section about beauty, she doesn’t advocate going out and buying the most expensive products or go on about how she only uses the most exclusive products. Instead, she gives tips on making facial masks at home. Now that we have magazines full of stories about the drastic measures celebrities go to to lose weight and the outrageous amounts they pay for beauty products and treatments, it was interesting to hear a celebrity take a more practical approach to things.

Another reason I feel like it’s just too easy to make fun of My Way of Life is because a lot of it seems outdated by today’s standards. Again, of course it does — it was written nearly 50 years ago. In some ways, it’s very clear that this is from another era, but in other ways, it showed Joan to be rather progressive in her views on what women could be. It was published at a time when many women were stay-at-home mothers and housewives, but she certainly believed that women could succeed in the workforce and that women should have interests and lives outside of their husbands. And while she had strong opinions about pants and what body type you need to have to be able to wear them, she talks about some beauty trends that are hugely popular today, like contouring and microdermabrasion.

Even if you’re not into her lifestyle advice, if you’re a fan of Joan’s, you’re bound to love getting to hear stories about her life and career. My personal favorite was her story about the time she invited Greta Garbo to join her for tea in her dressing room at MGM and the first thing she did was try to impress Garbo with the fact that her dressing room had its own bathroom. Trust me, you’ll want to listen to the audiobook recording to hear Joan tell that story.

All in all, I was surprised to find myself honestly enjoying My Way of Life. So I guess that makes me part of its fan base, but I don’t seem to be in it for the same reasons other people are. While it has its moments of being over the top, it’s really silly to criticize it for that when it’s written by someone whose life was over the top. I wanted to hear about things like how she brought 37 pieces of luggage when she went to London to film Trog; I would’ve been let down if she said she just put a few things in a bag at the last minute. By far, the most shocking thing about it is a rape joke she makes. So aside from some of the more obviously dated bits, this really wasn’t the campy riot I’d been led to believe it was by some other articles I’d read about it. As Joan famously said, “If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.” And if you want campy Joan Crawford fun, watching Trog is a better bet. But it definitely is an interesting and entertaining book.

What’s on TCM: August 2017

Marilyn Monroe Beach

Happy August, everyone! August can only mean one thing on TCM — Summer Under the Stars. If you’re not familiar with Summer Under the Stars, each day in August, TCM will be featuring the work from a certain actor or actress. I always look forward to this because it’s such a great way to discover new movies and maybe even gain appreciation for certain stars.

Looking through this year’s schedule, I’m very happy with the lineup. While there are some traditional crowd-pleasers like Cary Grant, John Wayne,  Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor, there are also quite a few stars who haven’t been featured in a while. I’m particularly looking forward to Gene Kelly, James Cagney, Lon Chaney, Franchot Tone, Angela Lansbury, Rosalind Russell, and Ann Harding days.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the schedule.

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Raiders of the Lost Films: Flaming Youth (1923)

Colleen Moore 1923 Flaming Youth

It’s often said that Hollywood has a fixation on youth, and this hardly a new trend. Throughout the entire history of American cinema, there have consistently been actors and actresses who shoot to superstardom for being the personification of youth.

As time moves progresses, so does the image of youth. During the 1910s, Mary Pickford was one of the most famous women in the world, celebrated for playing little girls in movies like Poor Little Rich Girl and The Little Princess. Although Pickford was well into her twenties at the time, the spirit and charisma she brought to those young characters won over audiences all over the world. Her long, curled hair became a symbol of the wholesome innocence of her characters.

By the early 1920s, things were beginning to change. After the end of World War I, many young women, known as flappers, were turning their backs on more conservative values by wearing dresses with higher hemlines, smoking, drinking, listening to jazz, going out dancing, working, dating, and generally having a whole lot of fun. Flappers also famously wore short bobbed hair styles; the antithesis of Mary Pickford’s long curls.

Colleen Moore in 1923's Flaming YouthIt was only a matter of time before Hollywood started capitalizing on this shift in youth culture. 1920’s The Flapper, starring Olive Thomas, was the first movie to focus on flappers and eventually, actresses like Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, and Joan Crawford would also become icons for playing characters that embody the lifestyle. But before all of them, there was Colleen Moore in 1923’s Flaming Youth.

Flaming Youth was based on the novel of the same name by Samuel Hopkins Adams, also published in 1923. The novel quickly caused an uproar over its uncensored, sexually frank take on the flapper lifestyle and the lives of young women. By the time he wrote Flaming Youth, Adams had already built up a reputation as a journalist and novelist and didn’t want the salacious content of Flaming Youth to overshadow his other works, so he published it under the pseudonym Warner Fabian. (The Harvey Girls, The Gorgeous Hussy, and It Happened One Night were also based on works written by Adams.) The book caused such a stir that F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote a letter to Adams saying that he wished he had been the one to write Flaming Youth.

As is the case with so many book-to-film adaptations, Flaming Youth isn’t completely faithful to its source material, but that didn’t stop it from being a worldwide smash upon its release. Colleen Moore stars as Patricia Fentriss, a young woman whose mother passes away after her hard-partying life catches up with her. Her mother hopes Patricia will go down a different path in life, but Patricia becomes a flapper and enjoys the wild life that comes with it. Like many flappers, Patricia is also not a fan of the idea of getting married. So when she meets Cary Scott (Milton Sills), her mother’s former boyfriend, she falls in love with him, but moves on to having an affair with a violinist when Cary leaves for Europe. However, that fling comes to an end after she and the violinist get into a fight during a party on a yacht, which ends with her jumping overboard to escape. After being rescued, Patricia is nursed back to health by Cary and changes her mind about marriage.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said of Flaming Youth, “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch.” Colleen Moore was already an established star in 1923, but Flaming Youth brought her to a new level of stardom. Her sleek, black bobbed haircut and bangs remain a definitive part of the flapper image.

The film was a big box office success, which comes as no surprise given the controversial nature of the book and the fact that the movie’s promotional materials played up its scandalous content. One lobby card described the movie as, “A spicy society exposé so startling that the author dared not sign his right name,” and promised to give, “…the bald facts, the truth about our modern society with its gay life, its petting parties, its flapper dances, its jazz.” Another lobby card asked, “How far can a girl go?”, and elaborated, “She smoked cigarettes. She drank. She went to petting parties. She led the pace of the gayest life in the gayest society.”

Flaming Youth 1923 Theater Lobby Display

Theater lobby display promoting Flaming Youth

With hype like that, it’s hard not to be intrigued by it. At one point, the film was even banned in Canada and a theater owner was fined $5 for showing the film. In fact, The Exhibitor’s Trade Review advised theater owners in their December 1923 issue to exploit the film’s controversy:

“The best way to arouse the interest of the curious is to condemn the picture. There is here a peculiar psychology which makes people impatient to see what they have been told not to. Here is your cue for exploitation. Get out letters warning the people that the picture is rife with bold situations and un-restained necking parties and advise them not to see it and forbid their children to do likewise. They will come hotfooting it to your theatre.

Inflame the minister with the outrages against society on the part of the younger generation, and get him to preach a sermon on the subject using the picture to illustrate his point.”

Reviews from the era generally paint it as being an enjoyable movie. The Exhibitor’s Trade Review said of it, “What makes this picture different, is not its subject matter, but the manner in which the story is handled by a competent cast. It is the same old tale of the jazz crazy modern age, chock full of picturesque scenes and amusing situations.”

While Colleen Moore certainly got the most attention for her role, Milton Sills and Myrtle Stedman (who played Patricia’s mother) also got good notes from the New York Times. Many of the less favorable reviews point out that it isn’t a completely faithful adaption of the book. One reviewer from the Cincinnati Inquirer didn’t care for any of the characters and wrote, “Throughout the production, scarcely a single admirable character appears, and the audience is regaled with the antics of a lot of childish adults and adulterated children. Consequently, the members of the cast, though many of them are talented, work against unfair handicaps.”

Despite the fact that Colleen Moore was such a big hit in Flaming Youth, she didn’t stick to flapper roles for much longer. The following year, she starred in The Perfect Flapper, but it wasn’t as well received. By that time, other actresses had also made a name for themselves for playing flappers, particularly Clara Bow, so Moore simply moved on with her career. Although she publicly declared that she was done with flapper pictures, Moore would go on to star in 1929’s Why Be Good, in which she plays a young, modern, forward-thinking woman.

The flapper type fell out of popularity in American culture around the time of the stock market crash of 1929 when their lifestyle was suddenly deemed frivolous. In the 1930s, there was a return to a more wholesome image of youth in cinema, with stars like Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, and Judy Garland becoming some of the top box office draws. It wouldn’t be until the mid-to-late 1950s and early 1960s that we got to see the more adult side of youth again in movies like Rebel Without a CausePeyton PlaceSplendor in the Grass, and A Summer Place.

Flaming Youth is a prime example of how a movie being a major success upon its release doesn’t necessarily guarantee preservation. While many of the definitive flapper flicks of the 1920s, such as Clara Bow’s It and Joan Crawford’s Our Dancing Daughters, still exist and are very easy to see, Flaming Youth is now a partially lost film. Originally, Flaming Youth had a runtime of 90 minutes, but only about 10 minutes worth of footage is known to still exist.

The few minutes that remain are fascinating for a multitude of reasons. If you’re a fan of 1920s fashion and beauty, you’re going to love the footage of Patricia getting dolled up for a party. An infamous skinny dipping sequence during a wild party, shown in silhouette, is among the existing footage and is a perfect example of how director John Francis Dillon used artistic vision as a way to sidestep censorship, something which was pointed out in many reviews from 1923. But most importantly, it’s still easy to see why Colleen Moore was such a delight to audiences.

Unfortunately, Flaming Youth isn’t the only Colleen Moore to become lost over time. Despite being one of the biggest stars of the 1920s, only about half of her films are still known to exist in a complete state. But it’s certainly not due to a lack of effort on Moore’s part, which makes the fact that so many of her films are lost all the more heartbreaking. She personally gave prints of her films to the Museum of Modern Art, but due to an administrative oversight, they weren’t properly cared for. Years later, she contacted MOMA to check on the condition of her films and learned they had deteriorated too badly for them to be saved. Despite all of her efforts to find other prints of her films, she had little luck. Perhaps one day, a complete print will be found somewhere and the world will be able to see Colleen Moore at her peak once again.

What’s on TCM: July 2017

Ronald Colman

Happy July, everyone! It’s looking like it’s going to be a pretty quiet month on TCM, but there are still two very good reasons to watch this month: Ronald Colman as Star of the Month and the 50 Years of Hitchcock spotlight. I like Ronald Colman, so I’m looking forward to seeing his movies every Thursday night this month. The Hitchcock spotlight is a bit bigger and will be happening every Wednesday and Friday night. I know I can’t complain about knowing that I’ll have two nights each week where I’ll be coming home to lots of Hitchcock movies.

Without further ado, let’s get on to the rest of the schedule.

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Feud: Bette and Joan (2017)

Feud: Bette and Joan

For months, the classic film community has been abuzz about FX’s mini-series Feud: Bette and Joan. From the day it was announced to the season finale, it seems like just about every classic film fan has had something to say about it. One thing that can be safely be said for sure is that among classic film fans, there isn’t one overwhelming opinion of the series. Some have loved it, others have loathed it, and I fall somewhere in the middle.

After having spent several years of watching other Ryan Murphy-produced projects like American Horror Story and American Crime Story, one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t gauge the quality of a series (or a season, given that his shows often change themes season-to-season) based on any one single episode, which is why I waited until I’d seen the entire series before giving a review of it. Unlike some other projects Ryan Murphy has done, which started out strongly and turned into a trainwreck by the end, Feud is at least pretty consistent in overall quality. There weren’t any episodes that truly wowed me, but there weren’t any episodes that completely bored me, either. While it had its flaws, Feud is a far cry from the disaster that was Lifetime’s Liz and Dick.

Although Feud was mostly promoted as being about the production of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, it wasn’t the sole focus of the show. It goes beyond the completion of Baby Jane and the 1963 Academy Awards and goes into the production of Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte and what both Davis and Crawford’s careers were like after working together, going all the way through to Joan Crawford working on Trog and her final days in her New York apartment.

You can’t talk about Feud without commenting on Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon’s respective performances as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard about their performances is that neither of them tried to sound very much like their real-life counterparts. Personally, this didn’t bother me too much. I can see that they were clearly trying to avoid having their performances being called drag queen-ish or being compared to Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. I actually liked both of their performances. It took me a little while to warm up to Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis, though. For the first few episodes, I felt like she was phoning it in, but I started to like her more as the series went on. Jessica Lange did a great job of capturing the more human and vulnerable side of Joan, but certainly didn’t shy away from the competitive side, either.

Feud‘s supporting cast was pretty terrific. I loved Dominic Burgess as Victor Buono, Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper, and Stanley Tucci as Jack Warner. Jackie Hoffman as Mamacita, Joan’s housekeeper, was also a real scene stealer.

I’m not going to get into just how historically accurate or inaccurate Feud is. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about this era of either Davis or Crawford’s careers and there’s been so much gossip and speculation around the production of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane that I’ve never been 100% clear on what’s real and what’s fiction. However, I will say that Feud seemed pretty accurate to the things that I do know to be true. There isn’t much in here that I didn’t already know or haven’t at least heard before. As with any biopic or film based on true events, there will always be some level of dramatization involved. Feud is no exception and those who have worked on the show have gone on the record to confirm this.

Throughout the run of the series, much was said in the media about how much attention to detail went into recreating things like the 1963 Academy Awards ceremony, right down to the color of the nail polish worn by Joan Crawford that night, and Joan Crawford’s home in Brentwood. The level of attention that went into creating these settings certainly didn’t go to waste; the sets were truly fantastic and were one of the best things about the series.

While so much research went into recreating locations, shockingly little attention was paid to some of the smaller details. For example, in the second episode of the series, B.D. gets into an argument with Bette and B.D. yells about how she grew up listening to Bette say things like, “When’s that old hag Norma Shearer going to give it up? When’s Claudette Colbert going to put herself out to pasture?” This probably wouldn’t stick out to someone who has no knowledge of Hollywood history, but as a fan of Norma Shearer, I thought this was a terrible line. It’s extremely unlikely B.D. would have ever heard Bette say anything like that about Norma Shearer. B.D. Hyman was born in 1947, 5 years after Norma Shearer made her final film. So by the time B.D. would have been old enough to remember her mother saying anything, it certainly wouldn’t have been tirades about how Norma Shearer needed to hang it up already. And although Claudette Colbert did stick around longer than many other contemporaries of Crawford and Davis, she was slowing down by the early 50s.

The biggest thing I really didn’t like about Feud is how they used interviews with Olivia de Havilland and Joan Blondell to frame the main action of the series. First of all, I didn’t particularly care for the casting of Catherine Zeta Jones as Olivia de Havilland, but at least it made sense for Olivia to be there since she was the one who ultimately stepped in to finish Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. There really wasn’t a reason to have Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell in this at all since these were supposedly interviews for a documentary about Joan Crawford and Blondell and Crawford never made a movie together; Crawford didn’t even work at Warner Brothers until after Blondell had left.

I know a lot of Joan Crawford fans were frustrated by Feud because it only focuses on her career when it was in decline and they feel that makes her look kind of pathetic. This probably wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that so much of what a lot of people know about Joan comes from the movie Mommie Dearest. While I liked that Feud showed Joan’s more human and vulnerable side, which is something you don’t really get in Mommie Dearest, I do agree that it would be nice to see a film or mini-series which also covered the early days of her career and how she worked her way into becoming one of the greatest movie stars of all time.

If you go into Feud without any knowledge of Joan Crawford’s career, or Bette Davis’s career for that matter, it’s probably going to be a bit like watching Sunset Boulevard — you’re told Norma Desmond was once a major movie star and there are details to back that fact up, but you pretty much just take the movie’s word for it that she once was a huge star. Not actually seeing that history isn’t necessarily a detriment to the movie. However I will say that I thought the finale was the most powerful episode of the series because I went into it knowing exactly how big of a fall it was for Joan. And I can say the same about Bette Davis. You can certainly enjoy Feud even if you don’t go into it with any knowledge of either of their careers, but just remember, you’re only seeing one era of their lives and careers.

TCMFF 2017, Day 4: The Day I Met Dick Cavett

Bonnie and Clyde 1967

April 9, 2017

Ah, Sunday — the point in the festival where I start craving a slower pace. It’s the last day and after a chaotic few days, I’m ready to relax a little bit. Over the course of the day, I only went to three events, but all of them were winners.

I started the day with Bonnie and Clyde at the Chinese theater. Bonnie and Clyde is one of my all-time favorites, but I’ve never had the chance to see it in a theater before. And after having had the opportunity to see two other of my all-time favorite movies at the Chinese theater the previous night, I decided to make it three in a row. Like I said, there’s just something about being able to see one of your favorite movies at the Chinese theater that makes the experience so much more special. A beautiful print of a great movie in one of the most beautiful theaters — it’s simply fantastic.

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 09: TV personality Dick Cavett speaks onstage during the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. 26657_004 (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for TCM)

After Bonnie and Clyde, I had a little break before one of the events I was most excited for: the conversation with Dick Cavett in Club TCM. I absolutely love watching his old interviews with people like Bette Davis, Groucho Marx, Debbie Reynolds, and Gloria Swanson, so I knew he was going to have some amazing stories to tell. I was definitely not disappointed. Who else in the world can tell you stories about the time Groucho Marx went to a seance where the medium was a dead ringer for Margaret Dumont? Or about going to interview Mae West and asking her to remove her hat, only to have Edith Head come out and insist that the hat cannot come off?

Another story that only Dick Cavett could possibly tell is about the time he went out to dinner with Marlon Brando, Brando punched out a paparazzi photographer, and then Cavett had to convince Brando to go get medical treatment for a serious infection the following day.

Dick Cavett was more than a TV host who happened to interview a lot of movie stars; he was also a close friend to some of them. He was famously good friends with Groucho, but he was also friends with Stan Laurel and told us about how he got to know him and would go to visit him at his apartment. If you’ve never seen Laurel and Hardy’s appearance on the show This Is Your Life, though, Cavett suggests you keep it that way — he had strong opinions about the whole premise of that show.

My picture with Dick Cavett

The real highlight of the Dick Cavett conversation is that it was also a book signing. Now, this was not like any other book signing I’ve ever been to. Generally speaking, at the book signings I’ve been to anyway, you get to the front of the line and then there’s some standard chit-chat like, “Hi, nice to meet you. Thanks for coming out. What’s your name?” But when I got to the front of the line, he was in full Dick Cavett mode, joking around and posing for funny pictures with people. I was caught a little bit off-guard because I wasn’t expecting him to be on like that, but I mean that in the best possible way. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had at TCMFF. It was just one of those moments where I really wished I’d had wittier things to say, but I know that even if I did, he’d probably just have something even better to say in response, so I gladly concede.

Lady in the Dark Ginger Rogers

At last, the time came for my final movie of the festival — a nitrate print of Lady in the Dark. After ending last year’s festival with Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon, it only seemed appropriate to end this year’s with Ginger Rogers. To say that the attitudes in Lady in the Dark are a product of a different time is an understatement. The whole premise is that Ginger Rogers’ character turns to psychotherapy to try to figure out why she rejects glamour and prefers to focus on her career rather than getting married. But if you put the laughably outdated gender politics aside, it’s a pretty entertaining musical. The whole psychotherapy angle gave them freedom to create some extremely lavish and imaginative musical numbers that just couldn’t have been pulled off any other way. As a fan of fashion in film, of course I loved the costuming in it. There were costumes in it that literally took my breath away.

The real highlight of Lady in the Dark, though, was getting to see Ray Milland wearing a sequined ringmaster costume.

And with that, another TCMFF came to a close and I spent the rest of the night at the closing night party saying goodbye to people and fitting in as much time with my friends as I possibly could.