Claudette Colbert

Three Cornered Moon (1933)

Three Cornered Moon 1933While her husband was alive, Nellie Rimplegar (Mary Boland) and her family enjoyed a happily carefree life living together in a beautiful mansion with lots of money. But after her husband’s death, Nellie was left in charge of managing the family’s money and, unfortunately, Nellie isn’t too savvy about investing and their money and soon, it’s all over — the Rimplegar family is shocked to suddenly hear that they are flat broke.

The family has to cut down on all their extravagances, but Nellie’s adult children band together and all set out to get jobs. Elizabeth (Claudette Colbert) gets a job in a shoe factory despite her lack of experience, Ed (Tom Brown) lands a job as a lifeguard, Kenneth (Wallace Ford) keeps working as a legal clerk until he can pass the bar exam, and Douglas (William Bakewell) gets an acting gig. They don’t have much at all, but they do what they can and quickly start to adapt to their new lives as ordinary working class folks.

Meanwhile a couple of family friends move in with the family. One is Ronald (Hardie Albright), Elizabeth’s writer boyfriend who is completely out of touch with reality. He’s recently been kicked out of his apartment and Elizabeth allowed him to come live with the Rimplegars, but even with the family’s woes, Ronald refuses to look for a job or pay rent. And then there’s Dr. Alan Stevens (Richard Arlen), who moves in under the guise of helping out, but he really just wants to be close to Elizabeth.

Three Cornered Moon is a delightful little comedy. Not as strong as other Depression-era comedies that directly deal with the Depression like Gold Diggers of 1933, but it’s still very enjoyable and noteworthy for being an early precursor to some of the zanier screwball comedies that were about to become widely popular in the not too distant future. It’s the sort of movie I can easily see why Depression-era audiences would have enjoyed. It showed how ridiculous the behavior of wealthy people could be, but when they get taken down a peg, they’re likable enough to root for them. Although I was more interested in the movie for Claudette Colbert, Mary Boland stole the show for me; I really got a kick out of her as the gloriously over-the-top and eccentric family matriarch.

The Gilded Lily 1935

The Gilded Lily (1935)

Marilyn David (Claudette Colbert) and Peter Dawes  (Fred MacMurray) are dear friends who get together every Thursday to sit together on a park bench and eat popcorn. Although Peter is very much in love with her, she only sees him as a friend and is convinced that someday she will fall madly in love with a person who is flat broke and doesn’t care about that. And as luck would have it, she happens to run into Charles (Ray Milland), who happens to fit that description — or so she thinks. As Marilyn and David spend time together and fall in love, Marilyn doesn’t realize that he is really the aristocratic Lord Charles Gray Granton from England, who is already engaged.

When Charles’ father finds out about Marilyn, he insists that Charles go back to England and break it off properly. Instead of telling the truth, he tells Marilyn that he’s leaving for two weeks for a job. Meanwhile, Peter, who works as a newspaper reporter, gets an assignment to go get a picture of Lord Charles Gray Granton before he leaves town. Marilyn doesn’t learn the truth until she sees his picture in the newspaper. When Peter sees how upset Marilyn is, he writes a phony article about how she turned down Charles. Once the article runs, Marilyn finds herself famous overnight and leaves Charles scandalized.

Things continue to spiral out of control when Peter gets the idea to extend Marilyn’s 15 minutes of fame by turning her into a nightclub star. She can’t sing, she can’t dance, but she manages to charm crowds enough to become a complete sensation. Her popularity grows enough for her to take her act over to England, where Charles is eager to see her again. But can they pick up where they left off with their relationship?

I recently got this movie on DVD as part of the Fred MacMurray and Claudette C0lbert Romantic Comedy DVD collection released by TCM. The DVD includes an introduction by Robert Osborne and he talked about how even though Colbert and MacMurray made several movies together, each of them is best remembered for their work with other co-stars. It’s really too bad they aren’t better remembered for their work together, because they are an absolutely delightful duo. I was surprised to learn this was only Fred MacMurray’s second major film role; he did a fantastic job of keeping up with Claudette Colbert, who was the more established movie star at the time. They were a very natural fit for each other. The Gilded Lily is a movie very ripe for rediscovery. It’s a pleasant little comedy with a lot of charm to it. The plot is silly, but could almost be seen as a satire of celebrity and stardom in the 21st century.

Pre-Code Essentials: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

The Smiling Lieutenant

Plot

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

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


My Thoughts

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


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

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

It’s a Wonderful World (1939)

It's a Wonderful World

After millionaire Willie Heyward (Ernest Truex) is accused of murdering his girlfriend, detective Guy Johnson (Jimmy Stewart) gets the job of defending him. Since there is so much evidence to suggest that Heyward is guilty, Guy tries to hide him until he can break the case. But then Guy gets arrested for hiding Heyward and is sentenced to a year in prison. Determined to prove Heyward’s innocence, Guy escapes on his way to prison. Since Guy was handcuffed to a police officer at the time, Guy has to knock him out to get away and poet Edwina Corday (Claudette Colbert) witnesses the whole thing. To keep her from talking, Guy kidnaps her and takes her car.

After hearing Guy’s story, Edwina insists on helping him prove Heyward’s innocence. The last thing Guy wants is to have Edwina tagging along, but despite his best efforts, he just can’t seem to shake her. Together they make their way to upstate New York where Guy believes he can crack the case by joining a theater troupe so he can do some undercover investigating. With help from his colleague Cap Streeter (Guy Kibbee) and Edwina, they manage to capture the real culprit.

I love Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert, so there’s no way I could resist seeing a movie that stars both of them. I was certainly not disappointed; It’s a Wonderful World (not to be confused with Jimmy Stewart’s other, more famous film) was a real delight. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know how much I love finding those often overlooked movie gems and that’s precisely what It’s a Wonderful World is. It’s a great little screwball comedy that absolutely deserves to be more well-known. It may not be one of the best movies of either Colbert or Stewarts’ careers, but when you consider the careers they both had, even their second tier movies are still better than a lot of other actors’ best films. And you’ve got to see It’s a Wonderful World if only to see Jimmy Stewart wearing a ridiculous scoutmaster disguise.

The Outstanding Ensemble Cast of “Since You Went Away”

 

Since You Went Away Cast

There’s no way to talk about Since You Went Away without talking about how incredible the cast is as a whole. It’s one of those movies where virtually every actor who appears in it is extremely memorable. Lead roles, supporting roles, everybody makes an impact.

Since You Went Away Claudette Colbert

I’ve already talked a bit about how much I love Claudette Colbert’s performance in Since You Went Away, but her outstanding work doesn’t stop after the first scene. Claudette Colbert was initially hesitant to take the part of Anne Hilton because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be seen as old enough to be the mother of teenage daughters. But fortunately, a nice salary and the assurance that she would be boosting audience morale were enough to convince her to take the part. Anne may have been old enough to have teenage daughters, but it gave Claudette Colbert to prove just how much range she had. She handled everything from being warm and maternal to uncertain and afraid without missing a beat.

Jennifer Jones Robert Walker Since You Went AwayCasting actors who are married to each other to play a young couple in love hardly seems like a stretch. But if Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker’s relationship was ever like Jane and Bill’s relationship, those days were long behind them. By the time they made Since You Went Away together, Jones and Walker’s marriage was essentially over. They had separated in late 1943 and would be divorced a year after the movie was released. But their ability to put personal issues aside for the sake of the movie is extremely impressive and a testament to their talent. Their rapport is so strong and they made such a believable couple, I was very surprised to find out Jones and Walker were actually on the verge of divorce at the time.

Since You Went Away Shirley Temple

When she appeared in Since You Went Away, Shirley Temple, then 16 years old, hadn’t made a movie in two years. Although Shirley Temple is most widely celebrated for her work as a child actress, she proved to be more than just a cute kid in Since You Went Away. Temple gave Brig such a wonderful natural charm without being over-the-top precocious. All of the cast had great chemistry together, but I particularly love Shirley Temple’s scenes with Monty Woolley. The friendship between Brig and Col. Smollett never fails to warm my heart.

Since You Went Away Shirley Temple Monty Woolley

While Shirley Temple is associated with sweetness and light, Monty Woolley had the opposite screen image; best remembered for playing the acerbic Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Monty Woolley certainly had plenty of chances to do what he did best in Since You Went Away, but Col. Smollett is a character that let him show some softness as well. It’s a very well-rounded role that let him show how much talent he really did have.

Since You Went Away Agnes Moorehead

Agnes Moorehead plays Emily Hawkins, Anne’s snobbish friend, and boy does she ever excel at playing someone you love to hate. I tend to think of Emily as being like Sylvia Fowler: The War Years. Her haughty attitude, back-handed comments, and wardrobe would certainly make Sylvia Fowler proud. But while Sylvia Fowler is a total caricature, Emily Hawkins feels like someone you could actually meet, which makes the scene when she gets taken down a peg one of the best of the movie.

Since You Went Away Hattie McDaniel Joseph CottenJoseph Cotten was a perfect fit for the role of Tony, the handsome, charismatic friend of the Hilton family. It’s certainly not hard to see how someone like him would be so alluring to young ladies like Jane and Brig. I absolutely love his scenes with Claudette Colbert. Even though there is clearly an attraction and a little bit of history between Tony and Anne, Joesph Cotton never plays Tony as someone who is out to steal his friend’s wife. But there’s just enough of a spark to leave the audience wondering if they’re going to wind up together at the end of the movie.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Hattie McDaniel.  Simply put, Fidelia is a classic Hattie McDaniel role. She got to do everything that made her so likable.

“Since You Went Away” and the Importance of an Effective Opening Scene

One of the most important things a movie can have is a strong opening scene.  A good opening scene can tell the viewer a lot about characters or explain long backstories in a matter of minutes. Just think of the first scene from Gone With the Wind. In two minutes, we get a sense of what Scarlett was like before the war and find out she has romantic feelings for Ashley Wilkes. Opening scenes can also set the tone for the rest of the movie; The GraduateBonnie and Clyde, and Gold Diggers of 1933 are prime examples of that. But 1944’s Since You Went Away is a movie that uses its opening scene to its full potential. It does everything an effective opening scene should do.

Since You Went Away Opening Scene

Since You Went Away opens with a shot of the Hiltons’ home before progressing to a tighter shot of a window with a service flag displayed in it. Clearly, the family that lives here has a loved one serving in the military. From there, we look inside the Hilton home with the camera moving from an empty, well-worn chair with the family dog laying forlornly in front of it to a calendar, a telegram, and the box for a rush delivery of military raincoats.  The telegram, which orders Captain Timothy Hilton to report for duty on January 12th, is dated January 6th. This family’s world was turned completely upside down just a few days earlier.

Since You Went Away Opening Scene

From the telegram, the camera continues moving around the room, revealing that Tim and Anne (played by Claudette Colbert) were married in 1925 and have two teenage daughters (played by Shirley Temple and Jennifer Jones.) Then we’re back to the window we started at, through which we see a car pull up and Anne walking to the door.

Since You Went Away Opening Scene

When Anne gets inside the house, she enters with the weight of the world on her shoulders. This is her home, but it’s different now. This is my favorite acting moment from Claudette Colbert; as she walks through the house, alone, trying to come to terms with her husband’s absence and grappling with uncertainty about whether or not she could face life without him.  Anne’s inner monologue tells us, “This is the moment I’ve dreaded: coming back to our home, alone.” There’s no over-the-top melodrama to be found here. Claudette Colbert impeccably conveys this feeling with her body language and a glint of a tear in her eye. The subtlety of her performance makes this scene so much more emotional than something more dramatic would have been.

Since You Went Away Opening Scene

Anne isn’t alone in the house for long, though.  Just as Anne is about to lose her composure, her daughters Jane and Brig come home and Anne finds her strength again. Jane and Brig are handling their father’s departure in different ways and there’s a lot of uncertainty in their lives right now, but one thing’s for sure — this is a family that will be drawing a lot of strength and support from each other in the near future.

Since You Went Away Opening Scene

The Sign of the Cross (1932)

Sign of the CrossAs Nero (Charles Laughton) watches Rome burn, he blames Christians for starting the whole thing rather than admit he started it.  Nero’s accusation places all Christians in Rome in great danger.  When Titus (Arthur Hohl) and Flavius (Harry Beresford) publicly admit to being Christians, they are arrested.  But when fellow Christian Mercia (Elissa Landi) tries to defend them, Marcus (Fredric March) sees her, instantly falls in love, and helps save Titus and Flavius.

Marcus is being romantically pursued by the empress Poppaea (Claudette Colbert), and when she hears that Marcus has fallen in love with a Christian woman, she becomes extremely jealous.  This places Marcus in a precarious position because not only does Poppaea want Mercia dead, Marcus’ rival takes the opportunity to try to push him out of favor with Nero.  Marcus does everything in his power to seduce Mercia, but there is nothing that can take distract her from her faith.

When all the Christians in Rome, including Mercia, are gathered to be fed to lions for a large crowd’s entertainment, Marcus fights until the very end to save her.  Just before she is to go into the arena, he begs her to renounce her faith to save herself, but she refuses.  Finally, Marcus decides he would rather die in the arena with Mercia than live without her.

The Sign of the Cross is, without a doubt, one of the most completely depraved pre-codes you’ll ever come across.  With Claudette Colbert’s infamous milk bath scene, hedonistic party scenes, revealing costumes, and some rather gruesome moments all mixed together with a message about religious persecution, it’s easy to see why The Sign of the Cross caused quite a commotion.  It’s frequently cited as being one of the movies that drew such a strong reaction from religious groups, it helped usher in the strict enforcement of the production codes.  Even though the movie is actually sympathetic toward Christians, religious groups couldn’t stand Cecil B. De Mille taking stories with religious themes and filling them with so much depravity.

When Sign of the Cross was re-released after the production codes were being strongly enforced, it took quite a bit of work to make it follow the code.  Several scenes had to be cut and in 1944, De Mille filmed a modern-day epilogue and prologue to frame the original movie.  Fortunately, the cut scenes were not lost and have since been restored.

Sign of the Cross isn’t my favorite De Mille movie (that title would go to Cleopatra), but I can’t deny that this movie is completely and totally De Mille’s style.  It’s big, it’s lavish, it’s over the top, it’s everything you expect from a Cecil B. De Mille movie.