Author: Angela

Hi, I'm Angela and I'm a devoted classic film fan from Detroit. I have a Bachelor's degree in Television Production. While I was at school learning how to produce TV shows and movies, I realized that I also have a great love for writing about movies. After being out of school for a while, I really started to miss writing about movies so I started my blog, The Hollywood Revue. I primarily focus on movies from movies ranging from the silent era through the 1970s. Although I may occasionally foray into the world of more modern movies if I feel like it. All content on my website is copyrighted.

Box Office Poison: Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn in Holiday.

Out of all the stars labeled Box Office Poison by the Independent Theater Owners Association in 1938, Katharine Hepburn is one who maintains a high degree of name recognition today, even among people who aren’t actively interested in Hollywood history. Like John Barrymore, her name carries an aura of prestige in the acting world. Between stage, film, and television movies, her acting career spanned from 1928 to 1994. Over the course of her career, she won a record four Best Actress Academy Awards and earned eight additional nominations. Even if a person hasn’t seen any of her movies, they might know her from being played by Cate Blanchett in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Plus, her reputation for being independent and challenging societal norms makes her someone many people today can admire for that reason alone. But while her legacy has certainly held up very well over time, that success didn’t come overnight.

When you look at the early years of Katharine Hepburn’s career, both in film and on stage, you’ll see that she had a pattern of having some genuinely remarkable and promising achievements followed by some setbacks. For example, just weeks after graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1928, she was promoted from understudy to star in a stage production of The Big Pond, but was fired after one performance. She made her Broadway debut later in 1928, but the show closed after eight nights. Following a few years of moving between various theater companies with varying degrees of success, she had an opportunity to appear in the stage production of The Animal Kingdom in 1931 — but was fired after both Leslie Howard and playwright Phillip Barry were dissatisfied with her performance. Her big break didn’t come until 1932 when she was appearing on Broadway in a production of The Warrior’s Wife. The play only ran for a few months, but she got good reviews from theater critics and caught the attention of agent Leland Hayward, who thought she might be right for a project RKO Studios had in the works at the time: A Bill of Divorcement.

After seeing Hepburn in action during a screen test, director George Cukor saw something special in her. He thought she was unique and unusual, but in a good way. But when she was offered the part of Sydney in A Bill of Divorcement, she requested a weekly salary of $1,500 — a rather bold move for someone who was only just getting started in the theater world and had never appeared in a film before. For context, Jackie Cooper was earning $1,500 per week around this same time, when he had just had a wave of success in hits like Skippy and The Champ and had been nominated for an Oscar. (Adjusted for inflation, that $1,500 weekly salary would be about $32,000 per week in 2022.) David O. Selznick, the head of production at RKO at the time, didn’t share George Cukor’s enthusiasm for Katharine’s screen test. He had some reservations about whether or not she’d be a hit with audiences and knew that it’d be a big risk to have her in A Bill of Divorcement, but she got the job.

Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement.

In 1932’s A Bill of Divorcement, Katharine Hepburn made her film debut in a significant role alongside established stars John Barrymore and Billie Burke and it proved to be a “Star is Born” moment for Katharine. Not only was the movie a hit, she was quickly labeled an up-and-coming star to watch. Looking back at some of the original reviews for A Bill of Divorcement, it seems that it helped people see the same unique quality George Cukor saw when he first watched her screen test. In the November 1932 issue of Photoplay magazine, their (slightly backhanded) review said of her performance:

“Not since Greta Garbo first flashed before audiences in The Torrent has anything happened like this Katharine Hepburn. This girl from the New York stage is not only a fine actress — she is a great personality. Not beautiful, measured by Hollywood standards, she has something more than beauty — that thing, whatever it is, makes the great, great.”

A review of the film published in The National Board of Review in November 1932 said of her performance:

“A young and new actress, Katharine Hepburn, has the luck to have been given the part of the daughter for her first appearance in films, and the gift to make that part glow with life and beauty, a life and beauty that does not come from mere appearance but from the direct projection of an inner nature.”

The risk David O. Selznick took on Katharine Hepburn seemingly paid off and she was offered a contract with RKO. However, perhaps nobody was more surprised by the success of A Bill of Divorcement and the acclaim for her performance than Katharine Hepburn herself. She wasn’t satisfied with her performance in it and had gone off to Europe after production wrapped, convinced her career in Hollywood was over. Instead, the momentum from A Bill of Divorcement carried her into 1933, which turned out to be a banner year for her career. Over the course of 1933, she was in Morning Glory, for which she won her first Oscar, and Little Women, which was one of Katharine’s personal favorite performances of her career. She also had Christopher Strong, which wasn’t a runaway hit at the box office, but she got good notices. But as she went into 1934, that pattern of “impressive achievements followed by setbacks” started to reemerge.

In 1934, Katharine Hepburn had a hard time catching a break professionally. Film-wise, she appeared in Spitfire, which turned a profit, but is generally regarded to be one of the worst movies of her career. There was also The Little Minister, which fell into the category of being too expensive to be profitable. She also appeared in a stage production of The Lake, which turned out to be enough of a fiasco that Katharine personally paid for the show to close rather than endure the humiliation of staying on with a show that was getting panned by the critics. (The Lake was the play which famously inspired Dorothy Parker to say of Hepburn’s performance, “She runs the gamut of emotions all the way from A to B.”)

By 1935, she had another moment of success with Alice Adams, which was profitable and earned her another Best Actress Oscar nomination. However, that Academy Awards ceremony was the year after the infamous controversy around Bette Davis being snubbed for Of Human Bondage. So when Bette won for Dangerous, it was generally accepted that the Academy was making up for Of Human Bondage and even Bette Davis is quoted as saying that she thought Katharine Hepburn deserved to win that year. Alice Adams would be Katharine’s last notable career success for a while, but some of the movies she appeared in between late 1935 and 1938 would eventually go on to be seen as some of the most interesting films of her career.

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Sylvia Scarlett.

On December 25, 1935, Sylvia Scarlett was released and was the first in a string of significant box office failures Katharine Hepburn starred in. Today, Sylvia Scarlett is notable for a few other reasons, though. First of all, it was the first on-screen pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It was also another teaming of Katharine Hepburn and director George Cukor, who had helped give her that first big break in Hollywood and was someone she would successfully work with several more times. It’s also often discussed in regards to its LGBTQ themes. However, it’s a movie that audiences of 1935 perhaps weren’t quite ready for. Reviews from its initial release were a mixed bag. Many critics described it as being confused and muddled and criticized the adaptation from its source material. There were some positive reviews for both Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. But there were many critics who hated the movie in general. Here is a selection of reviews featured in the Motion Picture Review Digest:

“Sylvia Scarlett [is] an amateur movie as embarrassing as the ideas indulged in by Uncle Charlie when he dons Aunt Martha’s hat at Aunt Ida’s birthday party. I finally had to walk out on Sylvia Scarlett for a breath of Sixth Avenue monoxide…The whole picture is a case of bad judgment on the part of everyone concerned.” – Time

“I am forced to say that her vehicle is a sprawling and ineffective essay in dramatic chaos, with characters and situations enmeshed in vague obscurities, but for Miss Hepburn’s performance I have only admiration. The photoplay itself is a rather futile oddity, but the eerie suggestion of oddness that goes with the star’s characteristic type of impersonation fits in far more successfully with this sort of tale than it ever did when she was attempting to be a small-town wallflower in ‘Alice Adams.’ I don’t care for ‘Sylvia Scarlett’ a bit, but I do think Miss Hepburn is better in it than she was as the Booth Tarkington heroine.” – NY Herald Tribune

“Except for the excellent people in it, and especially the beautiful and talented Katharine Hepburn, who animates the title role with a vibrant and compelling performance, there is very little to recommend in the [film].” – NY World-Telegram

“As the awkward, imaginative, tremulously frustrated heroine of the tale, Miss Hepburn is on her home grounds, and she plays the part with a richness of understanding that compares favorably with her performance in ‘Alice Adams.’ Individual scenes of laughter and heartbreak come through cleanly, but the story and its people seem purposeless and possess the blurred out lines of shapes that are being projected through a veil.” – New York Times

Sylvia Scarlett lost $363,000. In 1936, Katharine Hepburn only appeared in two movies: Mary of Scotland and A Woman Rebels. Neither of them were hits at the box office. Mary of Scotland lost $165,000 and A Woman Rebels lost $222,000. 1937’s Quality Street didn’t fare much better and lost $248,000.

Katharine Hepburn in Mary of Scotland.

At this point, Katharine Hepburn was facing two major problems. First, there were the films themselves. RKO largely misjudged what types of films would work best for her sensibilities. Little Women was a hit, but more historical dramas were not necessarily what audiences wanted to see her in. Today’s movie audiences have the benefit of understanding that a large part of Katharine Hepburn’s enduring appeal comes from her distinctly modern attitudes, so movies like Mary of Scotland simply weren’t the best showcase for her talents. The second problem was her relationship with the media and her image with the general public.

When Katharine Hepburn first came to Hollywood, she wasted absolutely no time in shaping that very distinctly Katharine Hepburn image that she remains defined by. Right off the bat, she avoided doing interviews and other publicity events and it didn’t take long for reporters to start losing their patience. A Bill of Divorcement was released in November 1932 and by December 1933, Screenland magazine was already frustrated enough with her that they published an open letter from the editor berating her for not being more media friendly. In this letter, the editor of Screenland criticizes her for stealing Garbo’s anti-publicity schtick, saying it has never been modern. Other highlights of that letter include:

“So you see, you have a responsibility of a sort. And it isn’t American to put your hand in front of your face when the cameras are aiming at you. Not at all. The only Americans who do that are public enemies. Our public idols, on the other hand, including our Presidents, put up with it. Mellon and Morgan stand for it…It may be a bore, but it’s a part of their business and they know it and they do it. Suppose you see if you can grin and bear it.”

“…And now, when the camera boys surround you because you’re a big name and they have a living to make, you cover the famous features with a disdainful gloved hand and let them make the most of it.”

“Oh, now. Can’t you be human? Can’t you be real? Must the ‘regular’ Katharine Hepburn from Hartford, Connecticut become merely a bored celebrity? For one thing, it’s too early in the game to be like that. You’ve made a sensational screen success, second to Garbo’s. But you’ve also had some great breaks. RKO, with wonderful wisdom, about-faced on your films after your second, ‘Christopher Strong,’ with the splendidly appealing ‘Morning Glory’ and now the great Jo role in ‘Little Women.’ I hope RKO will always be that wise. But it’s the test of time and good pictures that makes a really great star. The Hepburn-conscious public must be won not once but over and over again. Hepburn, the actress, can do it…But it’s Hepburn the girl who must pass critical muster of the personality-mad public.”

With A Bill of Divorcement being such a success, people were eager to know more about this new star. But since she wasn’t playing into the traditional movie star media system, she was something of an enigma to the public. Some of the information journalists were getting was contradictory. Many articles about her early days in Hollywood talk about her unusual style of dressing. There were rumors she was the heiress to a $16 million fortune. She created buzz for buying a used car rather than a brand new one. (She explained to Movie Classic magazine in a May 1933 interview, “I have no false pride about driving a second-hand automobile; rather I’m proud of having struck a good bargain.”) Her marriage to Ludlow Ogden Smith, which she had been trying to keep quiet, was a curiosity unto itself. She hardly shared Joan Crawford’s enthusiasm for responding to fan mail and signing autographs. 

Hartford Resents Hepburn article.

On top of all that, there were often articles describing her as being rude, aloof, or generally difficult to work with. In September 1934, Picture Play magazine published an article titled “Hartford Resents Hepburn!” which accused her of being too aristocratic and out of touch to even win over the residents of her hometown. In January 1935, Hollywood magazine ran an article titled “Spitfire Hepburn Reforms,” describing her as having turned over a new leaf and how she had gone from being the bane of the RKO publicity department to being very cooperative for promotion of The Little Minister. By August 1937, there was enough Katharine Hepburn controversy for Picturegoer Weekly to publish a detailed timeline of her shaky relationship with the media, not unlike the articles you might see today breaking down timelines of drama around the movie Don’t Worry, Darling.

Between the bad press and the string of box office failures, it was clear in 1937 that something had to change in Katharine Hepburn’s career and Stage Door was a step in the right direction. Stage Door was only a modest success financially, but it was well received and gave Katharine a chance to get away from costume dramas and into a well-written drama with an excellent ensemble cast. (Plus the popularity of Ginger Rogers to help bolster its box office appeal.)

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby.

Looking back at Katharine’s run of Stage Door and 1938’s Bringing Up Baby, it’s easy to see this as a golden streak. But while Stage Door did respectably well, Bringing Up Baby was a different matter. Bringing Up Baby is one of the most notable examples of a classic film that wasn’t a huge hit when it was first released. Today, it’s a quintessential screwball comedy. But when it was released in February 1938, it was a movie that got some pretty respectable reviews, but didn’t perform as expected at the box office. One review published in Variety said of it:

“It completely ignores anything smacking of sophistication. It doesn’t even pretend to be witty. It just dishes out plain, boisterous comedy of a brand calculated to hit the greatest number of customers in the midriff. And it will hit them for plenty of box office. At the same time, Bringing Up Baby will be rated one of the distinctive entries of the season in this classification — the most frantic and whirligig of recent film funnies.”

Variety also said of Brining Up Baby in a separate review:

“Picture is moulded along same lines [as ‘Awful Truth’] and is definite box office. ‘Bringing Up Baby’ is constructed for maximum laughs. There is little rhyme or reason for most of the action, but it’s all highly palatable…Under Howard Hawks’ skillful pacing it is a hilarious farce.”

A critic for the New Yorker wrote:

“Little did I ever dream that in a Hepburn picture there would be such a flibbertigibbety farce as that of the lady whose skirt is ripped from her in a restaurant, but Miss Hepburn adds charm to the informal predicament and never has seemed so good natured.”

Newsweek also called it an “above average contender for crackpot-comedy sweepstakes,” praising the direction from Howard Hawks and Katharine Hepburn’s first farcical performance, while also noting the movie tries too hard for laughs at times. A selection of comments from theater owners published in the June 4, 1938 issue of Motion Picture Herald are also generally positive toward Bringing Up Baby and Hepburn’s performance in it. Even the most critical of the theater owner comments featured in that issue still called Bringing Up Baby better than most other screwball comedies coming out of Hollywood at the time, but blamed its disappointing performance on audiences losing interest in that style of comedy.

Despite the generally good reviews for the movie and for Hepburn, Bringing Up Baby didn’t become profitable until it was reissued for a second theatrical run in 1940. It was the last Katharine Hepburn movie released before the infamous Box Office Poison ad was published by the Independent Theater Owners Association. While RKO had been trying to revive interest in Katharine Hepburn, she didn’t feel confident in her future at RKO and opted to buy out the remainder of her contract. The underperformance of Bringing Up Baby also had some collateral damage for Howard Hawks, who lost out on the chance to direct 1939’s Gunga Din because of those box office returns.

Holiday 1938 Lobby Card.

Katharine’s second movie of 1938, Holiday, was released by Columbia and was another chance for her to work with both Cary Grant and George Cukor. Today, adding Holiday to that run of Stage Door and Bringing Up Baby makes 1937-1938 look like a true high point of her career. Many actors would love to have a run of movies like that in their careers. Holiday is now frequently cited as one of Katharine Hepburn’s best movies and firmly established as a comedy classic. But, as was the case for Bringing Up Baby, Holiday was generally well reviewed by critics, but struggled to make a mark with audiences. Reviews from newspapers and trade papers featured in the June 27, 1938 issue of the Motion Picture Review Digest were more positive, overall, about Holiday than they were for Bringing Up Baby but a selection of theater owner comments from the September 17, 1938 Motion Picture Herald mostly amount to one main sentiment: audiences just weren’t into it.

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story.

With the disappointing performance of Holiday, Katharine started to take matters into her own hands. She left Hollywood and started setting the stage, quite literally, for what would go on to become one of the biggest comebacks in Hollywood history. Playwright Phillip Barry had written The Philadelphia Story specifically with Katharine Hepburn in mind and the play proved to be exactly what her career needed. The Philadelphia Story opened on Broadway on March 28, 1939 and became a major success. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before movie studios were interested in doing a film version of the stage hit. At the time, Katharine had been seeing Howard Hughes and he realized how important it would be for her to hold the film rights to the play. He purchased the rights to The Philadelphia Story and gave them to her as a gift, putting her in the position to return to Hollywood on her own terms. She ended up selling the film rights to MGM, where she was able to choose her costars, director, and screenwriter, in addition to starring in it herself.

The Philadelphia Story was a big financial and critical success for MGM, earning a profit of $1,272,000 and six Academy Award nominations. Katharine was nominated for Best Actress, but lost to her Stage Door co-star Ginger Rogers. Jimmy Stewart and Donald Ogden Stewart respectively won for Best Actor and Best Screenplay. The movie also earned a Best Picture nomination and a Best Director nomination for George Cukor. Over the years, The Philadelphia Story became an established classic of the romantic comedy genre, being added to the National Film Registry in 1995 and included on several Top 100 movie lists released by the American Film Institute. The release of The Philadelphia Story also successfully started a new chapter in Hepburn’s film career at MGM, where, most notably, she began her relationship with Spencer Tracy. 

Book Vs. Movie: A Christmas Story (1983)

Randy, Ralphie, Flick, and Schwartz in A Christmas Story.

In the time since A Christmas Story was released in 1983, the voice of its narrator, Jean Shepherd, has become one of the most familiar sounds of the Christmas season. A Christmas Story is a prime example of a movie that only made a small impression in its initial release, but later reached classic status by building an audience afterward. After being released shortly before Thanksgiving 1983, most theaters were no longer playing A Christmas Story by the time Christmas came around. But thanks to screenings on television and home video releases in later years, A Christmas Story ended up becoming one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. It’s gone from barely being available on Christmas Day 1983 to being broadcast on TV for 24 hours every Christmas, in addition to being available to watch in any other conceivable way, from streaming to DVD, Blu-Ray, and 4K.

While A Christmas Story is credited as being based on Jean Shepherd’s novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, it’s most accurate to describe it as a radio-to book-to film adaptation. Several of the storylines from A Christmas Story originated as short stories Jean Shepherd had read on the radio. These stories feel like personal remembrances, but Shepherd always maintained they were fictional. (However, it’s believed that there may have been some degree of inspiration from his own childhood in Hammond, Indiana and people he knew there.) Some of those stories went on to be published in Playboy before being included in In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which was released in 1966.

Book & Movie Differences

Since …All Others Pay Cash is a collection of short stories rather than a traditional novel, the book and the movie are structured very differently. In the book, the stories are framed in the context of adult Ralph Parker returning to his hometown of Hohman, Indiana and spending an afternoon with his old friend Flick at the bar he owns, reminiscing about events from their youth. Only a few of the stories from the book are depicted in the movie. The stories from …All Others Pay Cash featured in the movie are:

  • “Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid”
  • “The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again”
  • “My Old Man and The Lascivious Special Award That Heralded the Birth of Pop Art”
  • “Grover Dill and the Tasmanian Devil”

The movie also has storylines inspired by some other short stories by Shepherd which weren’t part of …All Others Pay Cash. The part about the Bumpus hounds was based on “The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds,” which was published in Shepherd’s second book, Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories. (If you’re interested in reading the five main stories A Christmas Story was based on, those stories were later published together in 2003 in their own book, also titled A Christmas Story.) The part about Flick’s tongue getting stuck to a light pole also came from one of Shepherd’s stories, simply titled “Flick’s Tongue,” which was not published but had been read by Shepherd on the radio.

Ralphie with BB gun in A Christmas Story.

These stories cover most of the main events from the movie pretty well and even some of the smaller details from the stories made their way into the movie. For example, the “Duel in the Snow” story mentions gifts of a can of Simoniz, a fly swatter, a zeppelin, and a Frankenstein mask, all of which can be seen in the movie’s Christmas morning scene. But, of course, there are still some differences to be found. Most notably, Scut Farkus isn’t even a character in the story about the neighborhood bully. Instead, Grover Dill is the main bully rather than being the bully’s sidekick as he is in the movie. The story about Ralphie’s dad winning the infamous leg lamp gets into more detail about the effort he put into entering contests and his excitement about finding out that he had won something. It also explains that the leg design was the logo for a soft drink company. Another rather notable difference is that Ralphie doesn’t actually get a pink rabbit suit from Aunt Clara for Christmas. Instead, she just sends a pair of pink bunny slippers. He isn’t thrilled about the slippers, either, but it’s played into a bigger moment for the movie.

While the movie is set in 1940, many of the stories in the book are more rooted in the 1930s. The Depression is specifically mentioned several times throughout the book and it influences some of the main stories featured in the movie. The more Depression-specific aspects of it were lost in translation from page to screen. When Ralphie breaks his glasses while playing with his coveted Red Ryder BB gun on Christmas morning, the original line reads, “Few things brought such swift and terrible retribution on a kid during the Depression as a pair of busted glasses.” The part about the Depression was cut for the movie. The movie also mentions that Ralphie had to drink a lot of Ovaltine to be able to get the decoder pin needed for special messages during Little Orphan Annie radio broadcasts. But the “Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message” story suggests that Ovaltine wasn’t something the Parker family could afford at the time. He ends up getting the decoder pin after finding a discarded Ovaltine container while playing Kick the Can on his way home from school and was stunned to find that some rich family had discarded the whole can, including the part he needed to send in. Ralphie describes himself as being in an oatmeal-eating family and listening to an Ovaltine radio show and mentions that he had never even seen a can of Ovaltine before.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Book cover for In God we Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd.

If you’re a fan of A Christmas Story, it’s definitely fun to go back and check out the original source material for so many of its most memorable moments. Jean Shepherd’s style of storytelling is so distinctive that it’s easy to imagine the whole book being read in his voice. They did an excellent job of weaving the different stories together to make a broader story for the movie, but it’s still interesting to see some of the extra details and context the original stories have to offer. Since only a few of the stories from In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash were featured in the movie, the book is also a great chance for fans of the movie to get some extra stories about Ralphie and his family. With Shepherd’s witty and evocative writing style, it’s a very enjoyable read.

Book Vs. Movie: A Place in the Sun (1951) & An American Tragedy (1931)

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun.

On March 30, 1908, Chester Gillette was executed after being convicted of the murder of Grace Brown. Gillette was the son of religious parents who were members of The Salvation Army and he later moved to New York to work in a skirt factory owned by his uncle. While working there, he began having an affair with fellow Grace, a fellow factory employee. When she became pregnant, she pressured him to marry her, but he kept stringing her along. Reportedly, he was also involved with a young socialite in town. Eventually, Chester agreed to take a trip with Grace to the Adirondack Mountains, presumably to get married. Instead, Chester convinced her to get into a rowboat with him where he hit her over the head and left her to drown.

The court case garnered significant media attention throughout the country and was the inspiration for Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel An American Tragedy. An American Tragedy went on to be adapted for the screen twice, first as 1931’s An American Tragedy and again in 1951 as A Place in the Sun.

Book & Movie Differences

The novel An American Tragedy is an extremely lengthy read. (The edition I read was 874 pages.) But neither the 1931 film or A Place in the Sun match the book’s epic length, clocking in at 96 minutes and 122 minutes respectively. Given that discrepancy, there’s naturally much from the book that was lost in translation from book to screen.

The novel is divided into three separate parts. Book 1 covers Clyde Griffiths’ youth in Kansas City as the child of poor street preachers. He’s never spiritually moved by his parents’ work and dreams of having something more in life, envying the people in town who have nicer things. As a teenager, he becomes a bellboy in a luxury hotel, starts making friends with his coworkers, and enjoys the thrill of making good money, choosing to lie to his mother about how much he earns so that he can spend more on himself than on his family. He also starts breaking away from his strict upbringing while going out with his hedonistic new friends and develops a serious weakness for women. One day, as Clyde is returning to town with his friends and some women, the person driving the car (borrowed without permission) fatally hits a young girl. Clyde and most of the others flee the accident scene and leave town. This whole section is largely omitted in A Place in the Sun, aside from Clyde’s mother working in a mission and fact that he didn’t grow up with much money. The 1931 film does include the car accident as well. Book 2 is focused on the main events depicted in both movies, from Clyde meeting his uncle while working as a bellboy and going to work in his uncle’s factory up until Roberta drowns. Book 3 covers the investigation into Roberta’s death, the search leading up to Clyde’s arrest, the trial, and Clyde’s time in prison afterward. It gets into a lot of procedural details of the case, like the political aspirations of the district attorney involved, Clyde’s legal team grasping at straws to build a defense, and the things that happen when a trial turns into a media circus.

(Note: A Place in the Sun changes all the characters’ original names. Clyde Griffiths became George Eastman, Roberta Alden became Alice Tripp, and Sondra Finchley became Angela Vickers. In this article, I use the original names when referencing the novel or the 1931 film and the other names when referencing A Place in the Sun.)

Lobby card for 1931's An American Tragedy featuring Sylvia Sidney and Phillips Holmes.

Over the years, there have been many cases of books/plays being adapted into movies that are highly criticized by their original authors. An American Tragedy (1931) is one of them. In this case, Dreiser and director Josef Von Sternberg and screenwriter Samuel Hoffenstein had differing views on what motivates Clyde Griffiths. Dreiser’s novel has a very heavy sociological perspective and shows Clyde as being highly driven by an obsession with wealth, luxury, and social status stemming from his destitute youth, often being looked at as an object of pity by people who were better off than his family. But Von Sternberg and Hoffenstein didn’t believe this was relevant and in cutting out so much of Book 1 in the film, this whole concept is lost. Dreiser so strongly disagreed with the direction of this adaptation that he (unsuccessfully) sued Paramount to prevent it from being released.

Dreiser passed away in 1945, so he didn’t live to see A Place in the Sun, but it’s likely he would have been critical of that as well since it heavily whitewashes the less palatable aspects of Clyde’s character, including that all-consuming drive for wealth and status. When we first see George in A Place in the Sun, we see he’s simply trying to make his way to a new job opportunity rather than trying to distance himself from a fatal car crash. He’s a handsome young man, the leather jacket he wears gives him a bit of a cool guy vibe, and the beginning largely has an optimistic tone to it. As for his infatuation with Angela, A Place in the Sun makes it seem like that is more about Angela herself than it is about Angela plus everything her upper-class lifestyle represents to him. In the book, it’s very clear that it’s Sondra’s combination of beauty and wealth that makes her the ultimate dream to him.

Despite Dreiser’s objections to the 1931 adaptation, there is quite a bit in it that stays closer to the source material than A Place in the Sun. It follows the text of the book more than the spirit of the book. For one, A Place in the Sun shows Clyde’s wealthy relatives as being warmer to him than they were in the book. Clyde’s cousin Gilbert in particular is highly skeptical of Clyde’s presence, which is reflected a little bit in the 1931 version. It also accurately shows Clyde as being Roberta’s superior when she starts working at the factory. In A Place in the Sun, George and Alice both have menial jobs in the same department, but in the book and the 1931 movie, he had recently been moved over to a supervisory position in the stamping department when Roberta starts working at the factory, which changes the power dynamics of their relationship. It also shows Clyde pressuring Roberta to let him into her room at night. She later relents after he gets angry with her for initially refusing. A Place in the Sun makes this all seem more consensual.

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor seated in a car in A Place in the Sun.

A Place in the Sun also makes Angela seem like more of a more sincere and viable long-term romantic partner for George. In the book, Sondra’s relationship with Clyde begins as something of a joke to get under the skin of Clyde’s cousin Gilbert, who hadn’t shown any interest in her. But while he does find a place in her social circle, the general consensus among the town’s social elite is that Clyde going to parties with this crowd is one thing. But with little money of his own and a rather vague background, he’s not seen as a suitable potential husband for anyone in that set. Mrs. Finchley tells Sondra that she sees no harm in her spending time with Clyde, but specifically warns her against getting too friendly and Sondra understands that her mother is right. There certainly wasn’t anything like the scene where her father gives his blessing for George to marry her like we see in A Place in the Sun. The book shows that Clyde wants to marry Sondra and tries to convince her to elope, but it’s also clear to readers that any ideas he has about actually making it to the altar are a pipe dream. There also weren’t any dramatic visits from Sondra before Clyde’s execution. The most Clyde got was a brief letter, which was unsigned but clearly from her.

One surprising way A Place in the Sun is actually more accurate to the book than its pre-Code era counterpart is the way it handles the efforts made to get an abortion for Roberta. The novel goes into extensive detail about this, starting with Clyde finding a pharmacist who provides something for Roberta to take, which only succeeds in making her ill. He later gets a tip about a doctor and takes Roberta to see him, but encourages her to go in by herself to seem more sympathetic. The scene with the doctor plays out much as it did in A Place in the Sun. The 1931 version, on the other hand, mostly shows Roberta pressuring Clyde to marry her, but a brief reference to the pharmacist and the doctor comes up during Clyde’s trial.

Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun.

By far, one of the key things missing in both film adaptations is detail about the character of Roberta/Alice and what, exactly, Clyde/George saw in her. As I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel my heart sink as she was introduced because she was described as being such a lovely woman and I knew that things weren’t going to end well for her. Clyde had been warned to not get involved with the women who work at the factory, and until Roberta came along, he wasn’t really tempted to. Just like Clyde, Roberta came from a poor family and had a religious upbringing. She was a farm girl, like his mother. She’s pretty and when Clyde first meets her, he’s immediately taken with how bright and charming she is. She tries to be a moral and ethical person, but she’s not as uptight as other women with similar backgrounds that Clyde has met. She has a lot of agency over her own life. Also like Clyde, she dreams for something more in life than her destitute background has to offer, but her expectations are more grounded than Clyde’s. While Clyde’s family connections do appeal to her, it’s very clear that she was not actively trying to trap him by having a baby, like some might accuse her of.

The fact that the business owned by Clyde’s/George’s uncle is changed from a collar company in the book and 1931 movie to a bathing suit company in A Place in the Sun doesn’t materially change anything about the overall story, but it does change some of Dreiser’s original symbolism. In the book, it’s said that even cheap collars can add polish and manner to people who wouldn’t have them otherwise, so the collars serve as a metaphor for Clyde’s experience of coming to town to work for his uncle. When he was living with his family in Kansas City, his name made him someone that others looked down upon. But now that he’s in a town where his name is associated with a successful business owner, even being a lesser known member of the family is enough for people to take more interest in him than they would otherwise.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy book cover.

If you’re looking for a light, breezy read, An American Tragedy is definitely not what you want. But if you’re more in the mood for a in-depth character study about ambition, class, and the American dream, An American Tragedy holds up very well. There’s much in it that remains very relevant nearly a century after it was originally published. As long as the book is, I was surprised by how consistently engaging I found it. The only time I really started losing interest was during the some of the stuff about Clyde’s early time in Lycurgus after he moves to work for his uncle. If you’re into crime novels, you may like the third section of the book in particular.

I only began to scratch the surface of everything that is different between the book and its two film adaptations. There’s so much in the book that didn’t make it into either film version, like nearly everything in the first section, why Clyde’s uncle is so eager to help him out, and the efforts of Clyde’s mother to fund an appeal for him, just to name a few. You’ll definitely get a lot of new insights to the characters you know from the movie versions. This is the kind of story that absolutely could be adapted again as a miniseries. That kind of format would allow for more a more faithful adaptation and would be different enough from 1931’s An American Tragedy and A Place in the Sun that it would easily stand as its own work rather than as a movie remake.

Speaking of A Place in the Sun, this article might seem like I’m being hard on the movie. I would just like to note that I’m actually a big fan of the movie. While the 1931 version has more in common with the book, A Place in the Sun is the version I personally prefer. Hands down, A Place in the Sun has the better cast, although I liked Syliva Sidney as Roberta in the 1931 version. Many of the differences between the book and A Place in the Sun can be attributed to the fact that it was made during the production code era and there’s much in the book that is simply not production code friendly.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: The Night of the Hunter

While Charles Laughton only directed one movie in his career, The Night of the Hunter, he certainly made it a good one. No list of great movie villains would be complete without Robert Mitchum’s thoroughly menacing performance as Harry Powell. Simply thinking about the way he says the word “children” in that movie is enough to send a chill down the spine. When you add in all that striking cinematography, heavily influenced by German expressionism, the movie becomes a visual masterpiece.

The Night of the Hunter was based on a book by Davis Grubb, first published in 1953. But does the story still hold up without the tour de force that is Robert Mitchum’s performance and the striking cinematography?

Book & Movie Differences

Night of the Hunter was a movie that stayed very close to its source material. It doesn’t follow the book right down to the letter, but the core of the story is there. Most of what was cut were details that flesh out the characters a bit more. For example, the movie makes references to Rachel Cooper having a strained relationship with her son, but the book gives a deeper backstory about how Rachel struggles to relate to her son now that he’s become rather financially successful and leads a lifestyle she can’t fit in with. We also learn more about other crimes Harry Powell had committed before landing in jail with Ben Harper and why Ben Harper had flatly refused to tell anyone, even Willa, about where the money he stole was.

Willa Harper’s courtship with Harry is more drawn out than it is in the movie. Before Harry arrives in town, there’s a scene where Willa and Icey Spoon use a Ouija board to ask about Willa’s next husband, resulting in the board spelling out “cloth.” (The idea that a Ouija board would suggest a man of a cloth as anyone’s future husband, only for that man of the cloth to end up being Harry Powell is a great argument against the use of Ouija boards.) At some point, Willa gives Harry a pocket watch that had belonged to her late husband, which is upsetting to John. On the day of the picnic, the book mentions the children visiting their father’s grave for the first time and a storm occurring later in the day, and Willa misinterprets John’s unusual behavior as being due to those things rather than him not trusting Harry. Willa is shown to have several reservations about her relationship with Harry since she was still mourning her first husband.

After Willa and John do get married, the book has this rather devastating scene where Willa thinks about how even her best nightgown and slippers look worn and that her nice figure is the only nice thing she has to offer her new husband. When she returns to their room, Harry forces her to take off her nightgown, look at herself in the mirror, and viciously verbally degrades her body to her. The movie version of that scene is still brutal, but Willa is at least given a little more dignity.

The book also has a somewhat different ending from the movie. Near the end of the movie, we see a mob descending on the police station where Harry Powell is being held, but officers usher him away to safety just in the nick of time. In the book, Harry isn’t so lucky.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

I’m a big fan of Night of the Hunter, both as a book and a movie. The extra details we get in the book make John Harper a truly fascinating and compelling character. Even though he’s very young, there’s a lot of depth and dimension to him. We get to see how it takes time for him to come around to trusting Rachel Cooper after the trauma of everything he had been through. The book really explores John’s fear and inability to trust the police after they took his father away from him. It’s easy to sense his pure exasperation at feeling like the only one in town to see through Harry Powell and feeling obligated to protect his sister at all costs, even though she often makes it difficult for him to do so purely because she’s simply too young to understand the danger they’re in. Even the one adult in Cresap’s Landing that he does trust, Birdie, ends up being unable to help him just when he needs it most. It was also great getting to explore the character of Willa a bit more.

If you’re a big fan of the movie, you’ll very likely be a big fan of the book. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the movie, the book is still very much worth reading.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: The Graduate

As far as film adaptations of books go, The Graduate is something of an unlikely candidate. Generally, books get turned into movies because they were best sellers or were otherwise popular with the general public. The first printing of The Graduate only sold a couple of thousand copies and when one of those copies ended up in the hands of Mike Nichols, he’d never heard of it before. It was sent to him by producer Lawrence Turman and at the time, Mike Nichols hadn’t heard of him, either. But Turman had seen Nichols’s production of Barefoot of the Park and thought he had the right sensibility to direct a movie based on The Graduate. At the time, Nichols hadn’t directed a movie before and while he didn’t think the story was very original, he still wanted to turn it into a movie. Getting The Graduate to the screen was a long process, but once it was finally released, this story from a fairly obscure book suddenly became a cultural phenomenon.

Book & Movie Differences

For the most part, the movie stays pretty close to the original book. Of the most notable differences, there’s a section early on in the book where, after Mrs. Robinson initially propositions him, Benjamin decides to leave town for a bit and ends up traveling further north in the state, where he helps fight a wildfire. After he comes back home, he begins his affair with Mrs. Robinson.

There are several smaller events which happen in the book that don’t occur in the movie, which add some interesting details. Mrs. Robinson seems to be an enigma even to people who know her well. In one scene, Benjamin has a conversation with his father, who says that for as long as he’s known the Robinsons, he’s never been able to fully figure out Mrs. Robinson or trust her. When Benjamin comes to pick Elaine up for their first date, she apologizes for her mother’s strange mood, noting that it was like she had been in a trance that day. In the movie, it’s very clear that Mrs. Robinson is stuck in a loveless marriage, but the book mentions they’re estranged to the point of living on separate sides of the house.

As the story goes on, more differences start coming up, particularly around the point Benjamin decides to go up to find Elaine at school. The book shows him doing things like hemming and hawing over how to approach her. He does things like make a restaurant reservation with the intention of taking Elaine out, but doesn’t follow through. He later ends up at the front desk of her dorm, but stops short of having her called down. At one point, Mrs. Robinson does contact him while he’s in Berkeley. There’s a scene where Benjamin searches a campus cafeteria looking for Elaine and another where Benjamin’s father comes up to see him. After Elaine leaves school to get married, the movie makes references to Elaine expecting a baby, but there isn’t any mention of that in the book. Benjamin also doesn’t have to make that famous dash to find the church where Elaine and Carl are getting married — he manages to find Carl’s apartment and Carl had conveniently left a note on the door for his roommate letting him know exactly where the church is.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

On the whole, I liked the book. However, if I were to choose between the book and the movie, I’d say the movie is my favorite version of the story.

In addition to the fact that the book version of The Graduate wasn’t a commercial success, the style of writing makes it something of an odd choice for a film adaptation. It’s not exactly the most evocative book I’ve ever read. In books like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Now, Voyager, their writers did a great job of creating atmosphere and exploring the inner workings of the characters. The Graduate, on the other hand, is very sparse in those types of details. Instead, it’s largely focused on dialogue. However, I think this style of writing works in this case since it plays into the vibe of someone who is just going through the motions and not finding much meaning in life.

It also helps that the dialogue in the book is excellent. As you read it, it’s so easy to mentally hear those lines in the voices of Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, and William Daniels. At points, I could practically hear the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack in my mind as I read. Keeping most of those lines from the book was a very good call. The movie take everything that’s good about the book, but introduces some other classic moments, such as the “plastics” line, which wasn’t in the book.

If you’re a big fan of The Graduate, the book is worth checking out, if only for those smaller but interesting differences that come up throughout the book. It’s a fast but enjoyable read.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Raiders of the Lost Films: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928)

Ruth Taylor and Alice White in an ad promoting Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928).

If you mention Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the first name people will think of is Marilyn Monroe. Or, for musical theater fans, perhaps it’s Carol Channing. But before either of them came to be known as Lorelei Lee, Anita Loos was the name everyone associated with the story.

Anita Loos was inspired to write Gentlemen Prefer Blondes after observing a beautiful blonde woman on a train who had no trouble getting the attention of the men on the train when she dropped her book, while Loos was left to struggle with heavy suitcases on her own. She took this idea and wrote some scenarios about a gold digging blonde named Lorelei Lee, adding in some satire based on how she’d seen magazine editor H.L. Mencken fall all over himself fawning over some Ziegfeld showgirls. Thinking he’d get a kick out of the stories, Loos sent them to Mencken, who took the joke well and forwarded them the editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Harper’s Bazaar liked the stories so much, Loos was asked to write more stories based on this character.

Starting in the spring of 1925, stories of Lorelei Lee started appearing in Harper’s Bazaar and a sensation was born. The stories were turned into a book published later that year, which went on to become the second best selling novel of 1926. The antics of Lorelei Lee were also quickly turned into a comic strip and a stage play. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before a film adaptation would be in the works.

Finding Lorelei Lee

Given how massively successful Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was in print and on the stage, a film adaptation was destined to get a lot of buzz, especially around who would play Lorelei. Since the role would go on to be played by major icons like Carol Channing and Marilyn Monroe, you might expect that the 1928 version would have starred a major icon of the silent screen. Perhaps Clara Bow gone blonde. Instead, the role went to someone who would have little name recognition just a few years later.

The casting process for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was not unlike what would infamously happen a decade later while casting the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Much of the press surrounding the movie referenced Paramount’s extensive search for the perfect Lorelei Lee. Many big names were considered for the part, including Marion Davies, Constance Talmadge, Dorothy Mackaill, and Phyllis Haver. Fans and publications alike had their opinions about who should land the coveted role. In June 1926, Screenland magazine recommended Esther Ralston as their top choice for Lorelei, but also stated that Laura La Plante, Clara Bow, and Louise Brooks could also be good. In October 1926, Motion Picture Magazine ran an item reporting on rumors that Lillian Gish had landed the part, to which an unnamed hotel clerk is quoted as saying, “If Lillian Gish is to have the lead in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I cease to be a gentleman.”

Ruth Taylor photo from a magazine announcing she had been cast in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928).

In the end, Lorelei Lee was first played on screen by an actress named Ruth Taylor. As was the case for Gone With the Wind, the highly sought-after leading role ended up going to an actress who was fairly unknown to the American public. Ruth Taylor was born on January 13, 1905 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Eventually, her family moved to Portland and, eager to start working in films, she later made her way to Hollywood. Once in Hollywood, she got her start working for Mack Sennett, appearing in a series of short films. The films she made for Mack Sennett were often uncredited, but she did get to appear in shorts with Harry Langdon and Billy Bevan.

By the time Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released in 1928, Ruth Taylor hadn’t appeared in a feature length film before. Anita Loos and husband John Emerson were involved in the casting process and had just about exhausted the casting directories. In an article titled The Search for Lorelei Lee, published in Photoplay‘s November 1927 issue, it’s said that by the time Loos and Emerson met Ruth Taylor, Paramount was threatening to put in one of their own contract players and Loos and Emerson were threatening to tear up their contracts if that happened. (This article also states that one of the top three contenders for the part of Lorelei was future burlesque queen Sally Rand.) Emerson is quoted as saying, “The trouble was that Lorelei requires brains. Lorelei is just as dumb as John D. Rockefeller in an oil field.” But when they finally saw Ruth Taylor, they immediately knew she was exactly what they were looking for — she had the right look and was able to bring the right characterization to the part.

Actress Ruth Taylor with a wagon full of fan mail before the release of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928).

When Ruth Taylor’s casting was announced, the media machine ran with the whole Cinderella story angle. Pictureplay magazine called it “the break of the year” while many other publications played up how this virtually unknown actress had beaten out hundreds of others for one of the biggest roles in Hollywood. In the aforementioned Search for Lorelei Lee article, Photoplay magazine introduces her to their readers by describing her as, “…the kind of girl modern girls will like tremendously. She is chic, charming, sophisticated, and capable.” The fact that she also landed a five-year contract with Paramount along with the role of Lorelei Lee was another frequent talking point in press for the movie. Shortly after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released, Taylor was part of the group of up-and-coming stars named WAMPAS Baby Stars, a group which notably included Lupe Velez, Lina Basquette, and Sally Eilers that same year.

Section of a magazine spread featuring stars from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928).

The Movie

In addition to Ruth Taylor, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes also starred Alice White as Dorothy Shaw, Ford Sterling as Gus Eisman, Holmes Herbert as Henry Spoffard, and Mack Swain as Sir Francis Beekman. Plus Anita Loos was not only involved with casting the movie, she and her husband wrote the story and its intertitles. The movie was released on January 18, 1928 and in the time leading up to its release, Paramount promoted it to theater owners as being one of their big special movies of the year, listing it alongside movies like Harold Lloyd’s Speedy, The Last Command with Emil Jannings, Tillie’s Punctured Romance with W.C. Fields, and Beau Sabreur with Gary Cooper.

Trade ad for the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928).

Despite the fact that the movie is now considered to be a lost film, there are some details out there which give clues about how it compared to the source material. One review in the December 10, 1927 issue of The Film Spectator said, “The picture followed the book faithfully, but it didn’t follow it far enough. It stopped just where the book was getting interesting.” In a 1930 publication titled Censored: The Private Life of the Movie, one passage says of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, “Fortunately for the movie public, the censors cut any suggestions of immorality from it, as you have seen.” In my article comparing the 1953 version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to the book, I noted that the tiara Lorelei longs for never belonged to Lady Beekman in the book, but did in both the movie and the stage musical version. Screenland’s review for the 1928 film mentioned Francis Beekman crowning Lorelei with his wife’s tiara, so that’s a change from the source material which pre-dates both the Marilyn Monroe and Carol Channing versions. The movie also includes credits for Lorelei’s mother and grandmother, but the book mentions Lorelei’s mother had died and a grandmother is never mentioned.

Looking back on the original media coverage for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, you’ll find some respectable reviews, but the movie seems to have missed the mark on some level. Screenland magazine’s review said of it, it “isn’t the satire some hoped it might be, but it is good entertainment.” One review published in the December 10, 1927 issue of The Film Spectator stated, “There is one thing which can be said of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: there were very few, if any, mistakes which were due to carelessness. The picture ran pretty smoothly. As a matter of fact, that was in a way what was the matter with it; it ran too smoothly. There were no outstandingly funny scenes and there were no outstandingly good ones. By the same token, there were no outstandingly bad scenes.”

Alice White and Ruth Taylor is a photo from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928).

It didn’t take long for the media to start discussing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in ways that suggests it was something of a then well-known example of a hyped-up movie that fell short. In the September 1929 issue of Picture Play Magazine, a brief mention is made of Ruth Taylor appearing in a play called “Little Orchid Annie” and the writer remarks that based on her performance, she probably would have been a great Lorelei on stage or in a talkie version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, ending with the note, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as you know, didn’t register as a silent film.” In August 1930, Photoplay magazine published an article titled Flashing in the Pan, which stated Gentlemen Prefer Blondes didn’t work for multiple reasons, chief among them was that the story was too well known and there had already been many trite imitations of Lorelei Lee. The author also notes that Ruth Taylor unfairly got a lot of blame for movie not being as successful as hoped.

Going through those original reviews, Ruth Taylor’s performance does get a lot of good notes. Generally, she was praised for being an excellent Lorelei, but some critics had reservations about her long-term prospects as a leading lady. The December 10, 1927 issue of The Film Spectator features a rather lengthy review of the movie in which the author cites weak direction from Malcolm St. Clair and writing that lacked the nuance of the original book, but lauds Ruth Taylor for carrying the movie. This author calls her the perfect Lorelei Lee, but also states they would be surprised if she were to develop the range of Janet Gaynor or Dolores del Rio. In the February 18, 1928 issue of Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World, the following is written about Ruth Taylor’s performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:

“The publicity about the new young lady who gets the big break in the thing may or may not have good foundation, but the kid has the stuff for this thing at least…If I had to make books on her I’d say the role would kill her in other things (like Peter Pan all but killed Betty Bronson), but I don’t have to make books. I simply raise the point in order to to suggest that Miss Loos use her influence to keep the girl in Anita Loos projects, even if it means dashing off a series of them.”

Even if the movie didn’t meet initial expectations, it would still be very exciting news if a print were to be discovered. Given how actively involved Anita Loos was with its production, it would be a very significant find. As beloved as the Marilyn Monroe version of the movie is, it’s hard not to be intrigued by what Ruth Taylor’s performance as Lorelei Lee was like, given all those remarks about her being perfect for the part. It would also be the only film version of the story (thus far) which seems to have stayed faithful to its wildly popular source material.

What Ever Happened to Ruth Taylor?

Magazine article featuring actress Ruth Taylor and a contest to win her dress.

Despite all the buzz around the five-year contract Ruth Taylor signed after being cast as Lorelei Lee, her Hollywood career would be over in less than five years. The May 5, 1928 issue of Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World contained an announcement that Ruth Taylor would be appearing with James Hall, who’d had his breakout moment a few years earlier in The Campus Flirt with Bebe Daniels, in a series of three comedy melodramas. Taylor and Hall would end up making just one movie together, 1928’s Just Married. Taylor also starred in 1929’s The College Coquette, but that is the last feature she made where she was the top-billed star. That same year, she also appeared in This Thing Called Love, which had Constance Bennett and Edmund Lowe as the top stars. She also appeared in two short films, 1929’s A Hint for Brides and 1930’s Scrappily Married.

By 1929, Ruth Taylor’s sudden rise to stardom was already being used as a cautionary tale of how damaging too much hype too soon can be. The April 1929 issue of Photoplay featured an article titled Don’t Be Discovered, which notes, “Her failure to live up to predictions in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is perhaps the obstacle that blocked her road to fame. A case, no doubt, of too much publicity, too much ballyhoo. Only the miracle of a phenomenal performance can raise her now from the leading lady ruck, a position from which there is, for many, no direction to bow but out.”

Newspaper wedding announcement for Ruth Taylor and Paul S. Zuckerman.

At some point, Ruth Taylor went to New York to work on the stage and while she was there, she met Paul Zuckerman, a stockbroker and former aviator, at a party. It turned into a whirlwind romance and they were engaged weeks later, marrying on March 17, 1930. News of her marriage resulted in the press making many jokes along the lines of, “here’s one gentlemen who clearly prefers blondes,” with a few jokes in the mix about art imitating life since the actress famous for playing a gold digger ended up marrying a stockbroker.

Ruth Taylor’s career as an actress essentially came to an end after her wedding. Her last credited role after that was in a single episode of the TV series Trapped in 1950. While her career in Hollywood was short-lived, she created a legacy that would be very influential in Hollywood decades later. Her son, Buck Henry, had a notable acting career of his own, ranging from The Graduate and Heaven Can Wait to 30 Rock and Hot in Cleveland, as well as earning writing credits for The Graduate and What’s Up Doc?

Book vs. Movie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Even if someone has never seen a Marilyn Monroe movie, they’re likely familiar with one of two images of her: the white subway dress scene from The Seven Year Itch or wearing the pink dress from the “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” scene from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is certainly one of the first Marilyn Monroe movies I ever remember seeing and it remains one of my all-time favorite movies.

I first saw the movie pretty early on in my process of discovering classic Hollywood and instantly loved it for Marilyn and Jane Russell. But over the years, I also grew to appreciate the work of Anita Loos, who wrote the original story Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, first published in 1925. So, naturally, the book version had been on my to-read list for a very long time.

Book & Movie Differences

The 1953 film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a very loose adaptation of the original story. The movie is closer to the stage musical adaptation, which debuted in 1949, but there are still plenty of differences between the stage musical and the film version. (It’s worth noting that neither the 1953 film or the 1949 stage musical were the first times the story had been adapted for either medium. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had previously been adapted into a movie released in 1928, which is now considered a lost film. It had also been previously been adapted for the stage as a straight comedy, which premiered in 1926.) But this is the kind of book that makes it easy to take liberties with the material.

First of all, the book is not structured like a traditional narrative novel. Instead, it’s a series of fictional diary entries by Lorelei Lee. Several side characters and events in the book are completely cut for the movie to make it a more focused story. One of the cut events includes Lorelei and Dorothy stopping in England on their way to France and meeting the Prince of Wales, only for Lorelei to be horrified by Dorothy using slang around the Prince. There’s also one story about Lorelei meeting Sigmund Freud, who is unable to analyze her because of her lack of inhibitions, and another story about Lorelei throwing her own belated debutante debut party.

Marilyn Monroe tries on a tiara in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

In all versions of the story, Lorelei’s desire to own a diamond tiara is a significant source of drama. In both the movie and the stage musical, it’s because the tiara belonged to Lady Beekman. But in the book, that tiara never belonged to Lady Beekman. It originally belonged to an unrelated person who was looking to sell it. Since Lorelei couldn’t afford it herself or get Gus to pay for it, she gets Francis Beekman to buy it for her instead. But when Lady Beekman found out her husband had paid for a tiara and knew perfectly well he hadn’t bought any jewelry for her since her wedding ring, she sent some lawyers after Lorelei to get the tiara. But when the lawyers meet up with Lorelei and Dorothy, they let the lawyers have the fun of taking them out on the town since they’d be billing Mrs. Beekman for it anyway as part of their job and Lorelei makes sure they take a replica tiara back instead.

Lorelei’s background is a bit different in the movie than we see in the book. The movie version of Lorelei Lee is a working showgirl, but in the book, she had worked in films before being “educated” by Gus Eisman, who had asked her to give up her film career. The movie also makes absolutely no mention of an incident described in the book where Lorelei attempted to shoot her boss after he tried to assault her, but since it was an act of self-defense, she was free to go.

One change for the movie that I’d really love to hear the reasoning for is the decision to make Mr. Spoffard into a child. In both the book and the stage musical version, Mr. Spoffard is, indeed, an actual adult. The book version of Mr. Spoffard is part of a wealthy, conservative family and is a member of a censorship board that goes through movies and cuts out anything they deem morally objectionable.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

1925 book cover for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

I was quite impressed by how well the book version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes holds up today. Nearly a century after its initial publication, the smart writing by Anita Loos remains a real pleasure to read. On the whole, the book — like the movie — is light and pure fun; often laugh-out-loud funny. If you’re looking for a good beach read, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is perfect.

Even though the book has very deep roots in the 1920s, complete with references to people like D.W. Griffith, Rudolph Valentino, and Peggy Hopkins Joyce, much of the humor and character tropes are timeless. For example, Lorelei often thinks she’s classier and more refined than Dorothy so it’s always going to be funny to see Lorelei repeatedly be mortified by Dorothy’s sassy, wisecracking nature. (It’s very easy to see why Jane Russell was cast as Dorothy in the movie.) The book also makes fun of people who scour popular media just looking for things to get into a moral outrage about, and there are certainly still plenty of those around today. The fact that the 1953 version of the movie is fully separated from the original 1920s setting and still works very well is a great reflection of how much of it is timeless.

It also helps that Lorelei isn’t actually a dumb blonde, as people may be quick to dismiss her as. While the book makes fun of her self-perception of being a bit more sophisticated than she really is, she’s often shown as being clever and astute in her own distinctive manner.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: Now, Voyager

Lobby card featuring Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in Now, Voyager.

The word “iconic” gets thrown around a lot these days, but it’s a word well deserved when you’re talking about someone like Bette Davis. Over the course of her career, she delivered many legendary performances and her sensitive, vulnerable performance as Charlotte Vale in 1942’s Now, Voyager is easily among her best, with Gladys Cooper also turning in one of the all-time great villain performances as Charlotte’s overbearing mother. Now, Voyager has remained popular over the years with good reason, but before it was a successful movie, it was a novel by Olive Higgins Prouty.

Book & Movie Differences

For the most part, the film version of Now, Voyager is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book. It doesn’t follow the book right down to the letter, but most of the key events are covered, just in a more condensed way.

One of the most significant differences between the book and the movie is evident right off the bat. Rather than opening with Dr. Jaquith coming out to the Vale family home to meet with Charlotte before going off to Cascade, the book opens with Charlotte already on the cruise and the events leading up to her time at Cascade are told through flashbacks. Dr. Jaquith is frequently mentioned throughout the book, but we don’t see Charlotte directly interact with him until near the end of the book, after the death of her mother. While the first 20 minutes of the movie is largely the creation of screenwriters, it does establish some key things about Charlotte and her personal history which are covered in the book, like how she needs to hide things from her mother in her room and the romance she had with a ship employee on a past vacation which her mother actively destroyed.

Bette Davis and Paul Henreid stand together on a ship in Now, Voyager.

As for Jerry, the book gets into more depth about his personal life and the state of his marriage. The movie leaves out a scene where he writes a message to his wife from his cabin on the ship which details how very careful he is about choosing his words to avoid upsetting her. It’s also made clear that Jerry has never been able to provide the type of lifestyle his wife desires, which has long been a significant source of stress in his life. Jerry, like Charlotte, has experienced a nervous breakdown in the past, but he was unable to afford to see Dr. Jaquith. The movie really doesn’t touch on Jerry’s economic situation.

The character of Lisa is more substantial in the book as well. In both versions, Lisa is, by far, Charlotte’s biggest supporter in the family. But in the book, she has a larger story arc that makes her something of an aspirational figure to Charlotte, showing her that it’s still possible for her to have the kind of life that she wants for herself. In the beginning of the book, Lisa is recently widowed and had decided to get remarried. During the cruise, Charlotte wears many of Lisa’s clothes, which Lisa lets her keep afterward so that she can start completely fresh with her new husband. After meeting Charlotte upon returning from the cruise, Lisa stays in New York to get married while Charlotte continues on home to prevent Charlotte’s mother from getting too much shocking news at once. By the end of the book, Lisa is expecting another child. While her new baby will be a later in life child much younger than its siblings, just as Charlotte was, Lisa’s baby is very wanted.

The movie mentions that Elliot Livingston is a widower, one thing that isn’t mentioned is that he had seemingly been depressed in the four years since his wife’s death. In the early stages of his relationship with Charlotte, it’s noted that his maids are excited that he’s starting to host casual events at his home again because that’s something that hadn’t been happening in the time since his wife passed away. Between these types of insights about Elliott, Lisa, and Jerry, the book version of Now, Voyager becomes a larger story about people who have experienced hardships in their life helping each other. The recently widowed Lisa helps Charlotte improve her life by getting her to Dr. Jaquith. Jerry’s interest in Charlotte is like a suit of armor that helps her embrace her new life. Charlotte inspires Jerry to make more of an effort in his marriage after the cruise. Charlotte’s relationship with Elliott helps him move on from his late wife. And, of course, Charlotte is able to help Jerry’s daughter, Tina.

Bette Davis and Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager.

As for Charlotte, what you see in the movie is pretty much what you get in the book. You just get more insights to her feelings and personal history, such as how thrilling it is for her to make an impression on people she meets on the cruise without the influence of the Vale name. Or the fact that when she was younger, her older brothers would refuse to pick her up from activities after one of them was mistaken for her father because of the age difference. However, the movie makes some bigger diversions from the source material near the end of the movie. The movie makes it seem like Charlotte’s return to Cascade is purely a result of blaming herself for the death of her mother. But in the book, Charlotte also loses her entire support system shortly after her mother passes away and becomes very lonely. She hit a stretch of time when virtually her entire newly expanded social circle simply wasn’t around. Even many of the servants from the family home had moved on. When she goes to New York to see Dr. Jaquith, she tries to contact her friends there to no avail. As a last resort, she tries to contact Jerry and does see him at a train station, but she stays hidden when she realizes that he is with his family. She can tell that Jerry is also feeling lonely, and while she can’t speak to him, she finds some comfort in the idea that they’re essentially lonely together.

Claude Rains and Bette Davis in Now, Voyager.

Just as the book begins with some big differences with Dr. Jaquith, we also get some more differences with him near the end of the book. One scene I wish had been included in the movie is a scene where Charlotte sees Dr. Jaquith before her second trip to Cascade, where she laments not having any direction in her life and that the end of her engagement to Elliot means she will never have a home or family of her own. Dr. Jaquith has a very modern perspective and tells her that having a home of her own doesn’t necessarily require a husband and that there are other ways to fulfill her maternal desire without biological children. So when Charlotte meets Tina and wants to work with her, Dr. Jaquith is more receptive to the idea than he is in the movie because he sees that it could be good for her and for Tina, but still has reservations given Charlotte’s relationship with Jerry. (He also plans to start a program for children at Cascade, which he hopes Charlotte will donate to. There’s a brief reference in the movie to a new wing at Cascade that Charlotte is involved with, but it’s never stated that it’s for children.) This scene also gives some extra weight to the ending where we see Charlotte back at the home where her mother lived. While her mother was alive, the home was described as being dark and imposing. But Charlotte has listened to Dr. Jaquith and made it her own — vibrant and full of life, with Lisa’s daughter June often staying with her in addition to Tina. The bustling activity we see at the home at the end of the movie is the norm, not Charlotte simply putting on a show for Dr. Jaquith and Jerry when they visit. The scene with Dr. Jaquith’s advice drives home the idea that Charlotte is now truly leading a rich, fulfilling, well-rounded life, husband or no husband.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Now, Voyager is the kind of book I didn’t want to finish reading. The movie has long been one of my all-time favorites and I loved the book every bit as much. I’d been wanting to read the novel version of Now, Voyager for a long time and I couldn’t be happier that I finally did so. It’s been a real pleasure to spend so much time with such a thoughtful, beautifully told story. Even though I already knew the basic story from the movie, I loved getting all the additional insights and details the book provides.

The novel Now, Voyager was first published in 1941 as part of Olive Higgins Prouty’s series of books about the Vale family of Boston. Reading Now, Voyager has gotten me interested in finding copies of the other books in the series, particularly 1938’s Lisa Vale. I already liked the character of Lisa since she seemed to be such an ally to Charlotte in the movie, but the extra detail we get about her in the book made me want to explore that character some more.

When I read books that were adapted into films, I often have an easy time seeing why certain people are cast in certain roles. When I read Wife vs. Secretary last summer, I could absolutely picture someone at MGM reading it and insisting that they get the film rights because it would be a perfect vehicle for Myrna Loy. With Now, Voyager, I felt like the part of Dora Pickford, Mrs. Vale’s nurse, was practically written with Mary Wickes in mind. As iconic as both Bette Davis and Gladys Cooper are as Charlotte and her mother, Mary Wickes is always a delight and it’s really easy to read her part in the book and think, “This is pure Mary Wickes gold.”

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book Vs. Movie: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

If you mention either Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is bound to be one of the first movies people think of. Beyond its initial success after its release in 1962, its following of loyal fans has steadily grown over the decades thanks to the enduring appeal of Davis and Crawford together (and their oft-debated rivalry). In 2017, the FX series Feud: Bette and Joan once again renewed interest in the movie. But before it was a successful movie, it was a novel by Henry Farrell.

Book & Movie Differences

For the most part, the film version of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane stays pretty faithful to the book. Most of the differences are small, but often very interesting. For example, the timeline in the book is a little different than what we see in the movie. In the first scene of the movie where young Jane Hudson misbehaves after one of her performances, Blanche seems to be fairly close in age to Jane. But in the book, Blanche is just a baby when that incident occurs. The movie version of that scene combines two different events from the book — the misbehavior in front of the crowd and a later incident when young Blanche interrupts one of Jane’s rehearsals on the beach by trying to dance like Jane, which their father yells at Blanche for and their mother consoles her afterward.

Young Jane Hudson poses next to a doll designed after her.

Other details from the book add a little more insight to the history between Jane and Blanche. We find out that their parents had died during the 1918 flu pandemic. After the death of their parents, they went to live with an aunt who adored Blanche and was focused on helping her become a star in the movies. Once Blanche becomes a big star, it’s said that Jane only has parts in Blanche’s films rather than getting to star in her own movies as seen in the movie. There’s also less debate over whether it’s Blanche or Jane who paid for the house. It’s made very clear that Blanche had bought the house, but Jane does slip at one point and call it her house while talking to Elvira, who is quick to correct her.

We also get some great details for the present day side of the story that we don’t get in the movie. At times, Jane seems even more menacing than she does in the movie. There’s no doubt about whether Jane had been aware of Blanche’s plan to sell the house — Blanche had the chilling realization that Jane was listening in on the extension during her call to discuss it with their business manager as it happened. The whole concept of old stars finding new fame through television has a slightly more important role in the book. Not only does it bring attention back to Blanche, it’s ultimately what inspires Jane to try and revive her old act because she had seen that other former vaudevillians like Jimmy Durante and Buster Keaton were finding success on television.

One of the most significant differences is that the book gives Blanche quite a bit more attention than she gets in the movie. The version of Blanche that we see in the book is more inwardly complex. It focuses a lot on her inner thoughts, her frustrations with her physical condition, and her conflicted feelings about seeing her old movies on TV. While she is touched to (eventually) realize that she was getting fan mail because of it — which included one letter from an actor she had once been in a studio-arranged relationship with — she also worries that the renewed interest in her career would also lead to renewed interest in the accident and that people might dig up some details that had been covered up by the studio back in the day. A big motivation for deciding to sell the house is that she feels like staying there is a way of clinging to the past.

The book has a lot of details about the house that definitely reflect the “stuck in the past” aspect. In the movie, there’s a reference to the house once being owned by Rudolph Valentino, but the book says it’s located in a neighborhood that had once been popular among movie stars and Blanche was now the only star left. The rehearsal room we see Jane spending time in had been originally built for Blanche to give her space to prepare for her movies. We also get an explanation for why the house has those grates on the windows. Most surprisingly, the book mentions a set detail I’ve been obsessed with ever since I first noticed it — the fact that Jane has an empty picture frame on display. We don’t find out why, exactly, this empty frame is sitting out, but Edwin notices it while looking around the house and wonders what happened to the picture that was once in it, if it had been removed in a fit of anger or grief. (Speaking of Edwin, his opportunistic nature is shown a lot more in the book. He evaluates items in Blanche and Jane’s house like he’s an appraiser on Antiques Roadshow and every guest is bringing in something good.)

Throughout the book, there are several other differences from the movie, but a lot of them don’t really make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. For example, rather than Blanche and Jane living next door to a mother and daughter like we see in the movie, their neighbor in the book is a woman who recently moved to the neighborhood who watches one of Blanche’s movies on TV with a friend. (In the 1991 version with Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, the neighbors are again changed to a married couple.) Many of the biggest differences come rather late in the book. After Edwin finds out about Blanche and flees the house, Jane realizes that he’s going to tell the police and tries to run him down with her car, attracting the attention of other people in the neighborhood. Blanche also makes some efforts to get help which end up being devastatingly futile.

During the beach scene, does it make a significant difference that police are alerted to Blanche and Jane’s presence by beachgoer annoyed by Jane’s parking job in the movie and by a couple at a nearby beach house after Jane blocks their driveway in the movie? No, but it is interesting that in the book, police approach Jane at the beach while she’s trying to call the police herself.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Book cover for the first edition of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

In a word, yes. I absolutely loved this book. Whether you’ve seen the movie many times before, never seen it at all, or maybe only know of it through Feud: Bette and Joan, it’s the kind of book that anyone might enjoy. For those in the camp of having seen the movie many times, the differences between the book at the movie are enough to make things interesting without deterring too much from the core story. And for those who have either never seen the movie, it’s simply a very solid and engaging story. Henry Farrell keeps things moving along at a nice pace and with lots of great evocative writing.

It’s not a very long book, so if you’re looking for a quick summer read, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is well worth your time. Fortunately, this one is still quite easy to find at a reasonable price.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

TCMFF 2022 Recap

After largely spending the past couple of years at home due to the pandemic, it’s safe to say that heading out to Los Angeles for the first in-person TCM Classic Film Festival since 2019 was a particularly special experience to me. Don’t get me wrong — between all the wonderful movies, guest appearances, and other events, going to the festival is always a really special experience. But as great as all of that is, being able to spend time with close friends of mine from all over the world and meet new people is always the key thing that keeps me coming back each year. After not being able to spend time with those friends for three years, I planned my trip to include some extra time before the festival got started to catch up with friends and have fun with them around town.

Before I get into official festival events, I’d like to take a moment to highlight the Old Hollywood Walking Tour led by April Clemmer. Over the past couple of years, I really enjoyed checking out some of her virtual events about various historic locations around Los Angeles so I wanted to make sure I went on her in-person tour before the festival got started. This tour takes you along a segment of Hollywood Boulevard between Larry Edmunds Book Shop and Cahuenga, then back to Musso and Frank. If you’ve attended the festival a few times, you might feel like you know the area pretty well. But in all the rushing around between events, it’s easy to overlook locations like the first movie theater in Hollywood, a spot where Chaplin and Marie Dressler filmed a scene, and a building where people like Joan Blondell and Mary Astor once lived. I loved being able to take the time to learn more about places I know I’d hurried past several times before. I definitely recommend it if you’ll be in town for future TCMFF events.

Thursday, April 21

The festival officially started getting underway on Thursday evening and I got started with the event I was most excited for: watching the red carpet arrivals for the opening night screening of E.T. E.T. is unquestionably my all-time favorite movie and has been ever since I was a very young kid. Although my pass didn’t get me into the movie, the idea of being able to watch people like Steven Spielberg, Dee Wallace, and Robert MacNaughton do the red carpet was just pretty much the coolest thing ever for me. Normally, there is a small section of bleachers where festival attendees who aren’t going to the opening night movie can watch the red carpet activity. They didn’t have bleachers this year, but standing across the street on the other side of Hollywood Boulevard still offered a great view. It was an interesting experience watching it from that side of the street where you had a mix of festival attendees, who were excited to see people like Pam Grier and Jane Seymor, and the general public, who seemed to recognize Kate Flannery from The Office more than anyone else — aside from Steven Spielberg, that is.

After the red carpet, I took a break to get some dinner before heading over to the TCL Multiplex for Hail the Conquering Hero. I’d never seen it before and I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorite Preston Sturges movies, but I still enjoyed it.

Friday, April 22

For the first full day of the festival, I started off at the Hollywood Legion Theater for Dinner at Eight. The Legion theater was first used as part of the festival in 2019 and I only had the chance to get over there once that year, so I was very happy to get back there early in the festival. It’s a beautiful theater, an excellent place to see a movie like Dinner at Eight. Not only is it a fantastic venue, the crowd was great. During the festival, it’s very common for people to applaud for things like actors making their entrance or after a big musical number. In the case of Dinner at Eight, people applauded for the appearance of aspic. Definitely my kind of people.

After Dinner at Eight, I stuck around the Legion to see Bruce Dern interviewed before Coming Home. I’d never seen Coming Home before, so I was really looking forward to this one. The interview was fantastic. The conversation started with Bruce Dern coming out and explaining that he was wearing an IHOP hat because he loves their crepes, ended with him talking about seeing Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne on Broadway. And, in between, we got to hear about how Hal Ashby got involved with the movie at the last minute and how Dern had a difficult time with getting acclaim for playing a veteran when he hadn’t served in the military. As for the movie, I loved it. Not an easy one to watch, but deeply affecting. I’m really glad I took the time to see it.

After a movie like Coming Home, I needed something a bit lighter, so I went over to the Chinese theater for a screening of All of Me. Originally, Lily Tomlin was supposed to be a guest at the screening, but at the last minute, it was announced she wasn’t able to be there because of a scheduling conflict. However, June Diane Raphael from Grace and Frankie filled in to talk about what Lily is like to work with and the way she approaches the characters she plays. It was great to see both June Diane and All of Me. I had only seen All of Me once many years ago and only remembered the basic premise of it. A very fun movie to see with an appreciative crowd.

I always go into the festival keeping my plans somewhat flexible. I always have a few essential events in mind, but after the full schedule is released, it’s not at all unheard of for new announcements to be made, such as new guests, so I like to keep my options open. At first, I thought for sure I’d end up at Cocktail Hour after All of Me since I like Bebe Daniels and it’s hard for me to resist a rare pre-code. But this ended up being a prime example of why I always recommend staying flexible because there ended up being a surprise announcement that was a total game changer for me — a conversation before Giant with Steven Spielberg, George Stevens Jr. and Margaret Bodde of The Film Foundation. Suddenly, Giant went from being my last choice in that time slot (due to length and general availability) to being an essential event.

While I did not stay for the movie, the pre-movie conversation was great and I had a copy of the new 4K restoration pre-ordered before I even left Los Angeles. It was wonderful to hear why Giant is a movie Steven Spielberg loves so much, why it was important for The Film Foundation to work on its most recent restoration, and the memories George Stevens Jr. has of the production of the movie. We also got to hear a written statement by Martin Scorsese about why it was important for him to see the movie restored. Spielberg was the big draw for me, but I came away from it being totally charmed by George Stevens Jr. and how sincere he was in talking about his father and his work.

After a break for dinner, I decided to go see a big movie I somehow hadn’t seen before — Fatal Attraction. While I wouldn’t say it’s one of my all-time favorites, I did enjoy it. It’s the kind of movie that is interesting to see how people interpret it. Personally, I’m of the mindset that the Michael Douglas character is the real villain of the story.

Saturday, April 23

Today started off with a lot of excellent movies all in the first time slot. As hard as it was to choose between The Third Man, Too Busy to Work, and Angels With Dirty Faces, I ended up going with Angels With Dirty Faces. Even though I already own a copy of it, Cagney on the big screen is always a treat. While I’ve seen the movie before, I came away from the screening really appreciating how good the casting was of the actor playing young Cagney. This screening was of the movie’s new restoration, just recently released on Blu-ray by Warner Archive. If you haven’t already seen this new restoration, it looks beautiful.

After Angels, I got in line for anther movie that involves actors playing younger versions of the stars: Three on a Match. This was in the notorious multiplex theater 4, famous for being small and filling up fast, especially with pre-code classics like this. I was very surprised that I actually ended up getting in, but I was one of the last. Three on a Match is one I’ve seen several times before, but this was a unique experience not just because it was a 35mm print, but because I was sitting near some people who were seeing it for the first time. It was fantastic getting to hear the reactions of shock from people seeing that ending for the first time.

I followed Three on a Match up with another pre-code classic over at the Legion theater: Baby Face. Baby Face had originally been on the schedule for 2020, so I was very excited that it made its way onto this year’s schedule instead. This screening featured a presentation from Bruce Goldstein and if you’ve ever seen one of his presentations before, you know they’re always worth your time. He spent a lot of time talking about the film’s censorship battles, complete with original documents to present and a comparison between the censored and uncensored versions of scenes. A real highlight was an ad Goldstein showed where the billing was “Barbara Stanwyck and thirteen men,” which will forever live rent free in my mind. I also couldn’t have asked for a better crowd to see it with. It’s not every day that you get to see a movie with people who are such big fans that showing the trailer is enough to get an enthusiastic response.

As tempting as it was to stay at the Legion for Counsellor at Law, I headed over to the Chinese theater for Heaven Can Wait. Warren Beatty was going to be at both events, but Heaven Can Wait won out since it was the movie I’d never seen before. It ended up being one of my favorite discoveries of the festival, but even better was the chance to see Warren Beatty after the movie. Warren Beatty is someone I’d long been hoping would be a guest at the festival. This conversation covered things like how Muhammad Ali almost ended up starring in Heaven Can Wait, whether or not he’d write a memoir, getting potato skins at restaurants, and how he’s been spending his time since COVID hit.

After Heaven Can Wait, I stuck around the Chinese theater for a screening of Singin’ in the Rain. My main draw for this one was that Paula Abdul had been announced as the special guest and I thought she’d be a fun guest. She ended up not being able to attend, but it’s hard to complain about getting to see a movie like Singin’ in the Rain at the Chinese Theater.

I didn’t have the energy to stay up for the Friday night midnight movie, but the Saturday night screening of Polyester was a must for me. Any John Waters movie is going to be gold for a midnight screening, especially with Mink Stole making an appearance. John Waters also did a taped introduction for Mink Stole before her conversation with Mario Cantone. I’ve gone to many midnight screenings at this festival over the years and Polyester was definitely one of my favorites. The movie itself was hilarious and the crowd was really into it, which is the perfect combination for these types of movies.

Sunday, April 24

After staying up for the midnight Polyester screening, I decided to skip the first block of movies on Sunday to sleep in a bit and unwind. My first movie of the day ended up being one of my favorite discoveries of the festival, Peggy Sue Got Married with Catherine Hicks as a special guest. I’d been meaning to see that movie for a long time so when I saw it on the schedule, I wanted to make a point to finally see it. For some reason, I was thinking it was going to be a more lighthearted movie, but it ended up being much more emotionally affecting than I was expecting.

After starting the festival off with one of my big essential events — watching the E.T. red carpet — it felt appropriate to have my second big, must-see event on the last day of the festival: a live reading of the script for I Married a Monster from Outer Space. If you did the virtual festival in 2021, you might remember TCM showing a live reading of the script for Plan 9 From Outer Space, with Dana Gould, Laraine Newman, and Jonah Ray, just to name a few. It was absolutely hilarious and a big highlight of that year’s virtual festival. So when this live read event was announced, featuring many of the same people involved with the Plan 9 live read, there was no way I was going to miss it.

The live read of I Married a Monster from Outer Space was a bit like watching a live broadcast of an old time radio show. There was a bit of live music and sound effects to accompany the performers reading the lines from the movie while Dana Gould described the scenes and provided a running commentary. This was the kind of event that had me laughing so hard that it felt like I was getting a core workout. After the past couple of years, being able to spend time in a room full of people just laughing together was pure joy. I’d love to see more live read events at future festivals.

For my last movie of the festival, I had a multitude of excellent things to choose from in that final block. Jewel Robbery was getting a repeat screening over at the Legion, Pam Grier was introducing Coffy, there was a screening of Seventh Heaven with the Mont Alto Orchestra, or there was A League of their Own at the Chinese with several cast members in attendance. I easily could have gone with any of those and been happy, but I opted for A League of Their Own. While I’ve seen it many, many times over the years, I’d never had a chance to see it in a theater. And the conversation with Lori Petty, Jon Lovitz, Patti Pelton, Megan Cavanagh, and Anne Ramsay was too good to pass up. And, as a huge Madonna fan, I loved the idea of being able to end the festival with one of her songs playing over the sound system of the Chinese theater.

The pre-movie conversation with the cast was easily one of my all-time favorite festival experiences. The cast still has fantastic chemistry together and it’s clearly a movie that means a lot to all of them. Over the course of the interview, we got multiple impressions of Penny Marshall and Jon Lovitz reciting lines from a deleted scene he had filmed. I know many of the people at this screening were very dedicated, long-time fans of the movie (shout out to everyone who came dressed in Rockford Peaches uniforms) and after the movie was over, I heard more than one person say that they’d learned things about the movie that they’d never known before from this conversation, like the fact that the huge thigh bruise you see in one shot was real and was severe enough to cause long-term damage. In all, it was delightful and a perfect way to close out my festival experience.

While that covers everything I did during the festival, there’s always an unofficial TCMFF Part 2 when I get home and try to catch up on many of the movies I wasn’t able to see during the fest. While I got to see several great movies for the first time during the festival, I want to recognize my favorite post-festival discovery, The Last of Sheila. The Last of Sheila had been my backup plan if I got out of Angels With Dirty Faces and the line for Three on a Match already looked hopeless, but since Plan A worked out, I made sure to order Sheila on Blu-ray instead. Fun to watch and very stylish, this was definitely one of my favorite new-to-me movies of the year so far.