Lists

My Favorite Pre-Code Journalists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Reasons Why I Love Bette Davis

Bette Davis

1.  She was talented.

Enough said.

2.  Who needs glamour when you can have realism?

When Bette Davis first signed with Warner Brothers, the executives at Warner’s had no idea what to do with her.  Bette said of her early days at Warner’s, “I was known as the little brown wren.  Who’d want to get me at the end of the picture?” They bleached her hair and tried forcing her into the mold of a glamour girl, which Bette absolutely despised.  She wanted to act, not just look pretty and she fought against the studio to be able to do that.Bette Davis

But in 1934, Bette finally found her niche when she gladly took on a role few other actresses would dare to touch — the completely unsympathetic Mildred in Of Human Bondage.  The total lack of vanity Bette showed in Of Human Bondage was a revelation and marked the first of many times Bette would choose realism over glamour.  For 1939’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Bette removed her eyebrows and shaved her hairline back two inches.  While making Marked Woman in 1937, Bette stormed off the set when the studio make-up department gave her a few measly bandages to wear after her character was severely beaten.  She went to her own doctor to be bandaged more realistically and refused to shoot the scene any other way.  And then there was Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, a role that only could have been played by someone willing to put aside every last shred of vanity.

3.  She knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to fight for it.

Bette Davis

Bette Davis was notoriously difficult to work with.  But did Bette care?  Nope!  When someone said Bette was once known for being difficult, Bette declared, “At one time?! I’ve been known as difficult for fifty years practically! What do you mean ‘at one time?!’ No, I’ve been difficult for fifty years. And it’s always to make it the best film I can make it!”

In 1936, Bette was fed up with being given sub-par scripts and so-so directors at Warner Brothers and decided to go to court over it.  She intentionally broke her contract and went to England, where a trial was held over stipulations of her contract Bette felt were unfair.   Of the trial, Bette said, “I knew that if I continued to appear in any more mediocre pictures, I would have no career left worth fighting for.”  Bette lost the trial, but she still made her point — the quality of her movies improved after that.  Olivia de Havilland later went to court over some of the same things Bette did and won her case.

4. I respect her work ethic and ambition.

Bette Davis On Set

During her life, Bette commented that she when she died, they were going to write “She did it the hard way” on her gravestone.  That phrase is, indeed, written on her gravestone and it is the most accurate thing that could be written on it.  Bette absolutely thrived on working hard.  She lived by the words, “Attempt the impossible to improve your work.”  On the subject of working, Bette also said…

  • “It has been my experience that one cannot, in any shape or form, depend on human relations for lasting reward. It is only work that truly satisfies.”
  • “My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.”
  • “I will not retire while I’ve still got my legs and my make-up box.”

5.  She always had something witty to say.

Interviews with Bette Davis are often just as entertaining as her films because she was such a witty woman.  I can’t help but love anyone who says, “That’s me, an old kazoo with some sparklers.”

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Don’t miss the 2013 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Jill of Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and Michael of Scribe Hard on Film! Lots of great posts are being contributed every day this month, so be sure to check back often!

The Hollywood Revue’s Guide to Surviving a Film Theory Class

Late August/early September can only mean one thing — back to school season!   A new school year means new classes and I’m sure plenty of students out there are venturing into their first film theory class this semester.  If you are one of those people, I have five pieces of advice that will hopefully make your semester a little easier.

Of course, this advice is only coming from my personal experience with film theory classes.  Since everyone teaches differently, I certainly can’t speak for every film theory class in the world.  Your experience might be completely different from mine, but I hope these tips serve you well, no matter what your class may be like.

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My Five Favorite Marilyn Monroe Performances

What is there to say about Marilyn Monroe that hasn’t already been said?  Fifty years after her untimely death, Marilyn’s star is still as bright as it ever was.  But for all the hype surrounding Marilyn’s image, the one thing I don’t think she gets nearly enough credit for is the quality of her performances.

So many people only know Marilyn for standing over that subway grate or assume she was famous for her looks, not her talent.  But she really did give some phenomenal performances that often seem to be overshadowed by the myth of Marilyn.  Marilyn’s movies played a huge part in my becoming such a big classic film fan, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite performances of hers:

1.  Sugar Kane Kowalczyk – Some Like it Hot  (1959)

It’s safe to say that Marilyn is best remembered for her comedic roles and for my money, she was never better than she was in Some Like it Hot.  This was the perfect way for her to combine her incredible comedic timing with some of the vulnerability she brought to some of her best dramatic roles.  Plus, this movie will forever be one of my all-time favorites.  It’s one of the first classic films I remember really loving.

2.  Nell Forbes – Don’t Bother to Knock  (1952)

If you only know Marilyn for her blonde bombshell persona, Don’t Bother to Knock will blow your mind.  It was Marilyn’s first attempt at dramatic acting and she hit it out of the park on her first try.  It’s hard to be both terrifying and vulnerable, but she pulled it off.

3.  Rose Loomis – Niagara (1953)

It’s too bad that Marilyn didn’t do more film noir because she made an amazing femme fatale!  She’s got the glamor and she could play sinister quite well.  She was a perfect choice for that role.

4.  Cherie – Bus Stop (1956)

How did Don Murray get an Oscar nomination for his role while Marilyn only got a Golden Globe nomination for her work?  Bus Stop was the first movie Marilyn made after taking a year off from making movies to go to New York and enroll in the Actors Studio.  Making Bus Stop was a smart way for her to reclaim control over her career, get away from the “dumb blonde” roles, and give a richer performance than she’d given before then.

5. Roslyn Taber – The Misfits (1961)

I always thought Roslyn Taber was Marilyn’s most genuinely human role.  When I watch her in The Misfits, I don’t see Marilyn Monroe, the movie star; I see a real person.  There’s none of the glamor generally associated with Marilyn’s movies.  There are no Travilla gowns, elaborate hairstyles, diamonds, subway grates, musical numbers; nothing to distract from Marilyn’s very heartfelt performance.

This is just one (of many) contributions to the TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Jill of Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and Michael of ScribeHard on Film.  All month long, bloggers will be contributing posts about the stars and the movies as seen on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars, so join the party!

Fashion in Film: My 10 Favorite Costumes

10.  Rita Hayworth’s “Put the Blame on Mame” dress from Gilda

On a lot of other women, that gown would have been pretty unremarkable.  But Rita Hayworth had so much charisma in that movie and had such an incredible screen presence that she turned what could have been a forgettable gown into the most iconic costume of her career.

9.  Elizabeth Taylor’s white slip from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

This right here is proof that Elizabeth Taylor could take the simplest garment and turn it into a definitive screen costume.  Nobody worked a white slip better than Elizabeth Taylor.

8.  All of Norma Shearer’s gowns from Marie Antoinette

I’d be very hard pressed to pick just one favorite costume from Marie Antoinette.  Adrian put an enormous amount of time and effort into designing all those exquisite gowns, no detail was overlooked.  They are all works of art.

7.  Debbie Reynolds’ “Good Morning” dress from Singin’ in the Rain.

Plain and simply, she looks absolutely adorable in it.  She had a lot of wonderful costumes in Singin’ in the Rain, but whenever I think about her in that movie, this is the first costume that comes to mind.

6.  Myrna Loy’s striped party dress from The Thin Man

I just think this dress is pure Nora Charles.  It’s fun, but classy.  She looks like the life of the party.

5.  Grace Kelly’s black and white outfit from Rear Window

This just epitomizes Grace Kelly to me.  It is so clean and simple, it’s not bogged down with a lot of accessories or jewelry, but it’s one of the most elegant dresses I’ve ever seen.

4.  Jean Harlow’s party dress from Dinner at Eight


It’s slinky and ridiculously glamorous.  This is Jean Harlow at her finest.

3.  Marlene Dietrich’s tuxedo from Morocco

In an era when women rarely wore pants, Marlene Dietrich went all out and donned a tuxedo.  Not shocking by today’s standards, but it’s no surprise that her tux caused a commotion when Morocco was released in 1930.

2.  Gloria Swanson’s outfit from her first scene in Sunset Boulevard

This outfit tells us right off everything that we need to know about Norma Desmond.  She looks rich, she looks like a movie star, and she’s definitely got some issues.

1.  Charlie Chaplin as The Little Tramp

As far as I’m concerned, this is the most iconic movie costume of all time.  It doesn’t just represent one movie, it represents Chaplin’s entire body of work and it’s a symbol for that whole era of film history.  When you see that hat, the cane, those shoes, that mustache, there’s no mistaking him for anybody else.  Even when people who don’t know silent films try to describe silent films, odds are they’re going to describe Charlie Chaplin and what he wore.

The Real Hollywood Tough Guys (And Ladies)

In the 100+ year history of film, a lot of actors have wound up with tough guy images.  Mention tough guys to classic film fans, you’re probably going to hear a lot of James Cagney, Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson.  If you were to talk to someone more into modern movies, you’d probably get Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Vin Diesel.  Personally, I’d be hard pressed to call any of them the toughest actors of all time.  To me, I think the most unsung tough people in film history have got to be silent film actors.  Seriously, you  had to be pretty tough and fearless if you were going to make some of the most beloved movies from the silent era.  I’m pretty sure if anyone went up to Bruce Willis and told him to do some of the things that a lot of silent film actors had to do, he would say, “You have got to be kidding me.”  Now, let’s take a moment to appreciate what all these fine actors had to endure.

Harold Lloyd lost his thumb and forefinger when a prop bomb he was holding accidentally exploded.

Dolores Costello liked to refer to 1928’s Noah’s Ark as “Mud, Blood, and Flood.”  In the documentary series “Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film,” she recalled going to her dressing room on set one day and finding a very bandaged extra leaning outside of her door.  When she asked if she could help, he explained that an ambulance would come back for him since he was in better shape than most of the other extras.  A couple of extras were killed while filming the flood scene.

While filming the finale of Greed in Death Valley, director Erich von Stroheim insisted on actually filming in Death Valley.  In August.  Jean Hersholt had to be hospitalized after he lost 27 pounds from being in such extreme heat.

Lillian Gish’s hands really took a beating on sets.  While filming The Wind in the Mojave Desert, Lillian burnt one of her hands when she touched a doorknob in the 120 degree heat.  Earlier, when she was filming the famous ice floe scene in Way Down East, her right hand was permanently damaged from being left in the icy water for so long.

While making 1919’s Male and Female, Thomas Meighan carries a leopard that had recently killed a man in the zoo it was in.  Basically, Cecil B. DeMille said, “Hey, don’t put that leopard to sleep!  Let’s give it to Thomas Meighan instead!”  There is another famous scene in that movie of Gloria Swanson with real, live lions, which she insisted on doing herself.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s Buster Keaton.  I don’t think anyone loved doing stunt work more than Buster.  He insisted on doing his own stunts in all of his greatest silent movies.  Famously, he broke his neck while filming the water tank scene in Sherlock, Jr. but didn’t even know it until a long time after the fact.  The most famous scene of his entire career is probably from Steamboat Bill, Jr., where he stands in front of a house and the entire front side of the house falls down around him, but he happens to be standing where a window is.  That stunt involved a lot of precision because if his position was off by just a couple of inches, he would have been killed.  When Buster was signed to MGM, one of the things that upset him most was that MGM wouldn’t let him do his own dangerous stunts anymore.  And this is why I consider Buster Keaton to be the toughest guy to ever get in front of a movie camera.