Fredric March

Blogging Under the Stars 2015

Site News, Movie Memorabilia, and a Liebster!

Hey everyone! Sorry for being a rather infrequent blogger lately. Let’s take some time to catch up with a few fun things. I promise, things are going to be a lot less idle here in the near future.

First of all, it’s almost August and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know what that means — it’s almost time for this year’s round of Blogging Under the Stars! If you aren’t familiar with Blogging Under the Stars, here’s how it works: every August 2-September 1, I watch and review a movie that airs as part of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars, preferably something I’ve never seen before, although that’s not always possible. My intent of doing this is to encourage myself to watch some movies I otherwise might not have watched and watch some films from actors I’m not so familiar with. I’ve done this for the past few years and every year I’ve discovered some really great movies, so it’s a lot of fun for me.

Now, on to some more fun things…

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Pre-Code Essentials: Design For Living (1933)

Design for Living Hopkins March Cooper

Plot

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

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

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


My Thoughts

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


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

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


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

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

Pre-Code Essentials: The Sign of the Cross (1932)

Claudette Colbert Sign of the Cross 1932

Plot

When Emperor Nero (Charles Laughton) blames Christians for burning down Rome, the lives of all Christians in Rome are put in great jeopardy. Anyone who openly admits to being a Christian can be arrested and when Marcus (Fredric March) sees Mercia (Elissa Landi) defending a couple of fellow Christians, he instantly falls in love with her and tries everything he can think of to seduce her, but her devotion to her faith doesn’t waver.

Marcus’ newfound love for Mercia puts him in a very precarious situation. Empress Poppaea (Claudette Colbert) is madly in love with him and is incredibly jealous when she hears Marcus is in love with a Christian girl. Poppaea wants Mercia killed and Marcus has a rival who wants to use this information to push him out of favor with Nero. Since Mercia refuses to turn her back on her faith, she is ordered to be fed to the lions in the Colosseum. Marcus begs her to renounce her Christianity to save herself, but she would rather die and Marcus would rather die than live without Mercia.


My Thoughts

“My head is splitting! The wine last night, the music, the delicious debauchery!”  This is a line delivered by Charles Laughton as Emperor Nero, but the phrase “delicious debauchery” is a perfect summation of Sign of the Cross. This is a movie that stars Claudette Colbert, Fredric March, and Charles Laughton, but let’s be honest here — the real star is Cecil B. DeMille; his unmistakable style is all over this movie.

Sin and debauchery never looked better than when it was being directed by DeMille. He made it all look incredibly lavish and decadent. DeMille was responsible for some other rather notorious pre-codes (CleopatraMadam Satan), but Sign of the Cross is definitely the most sinful of them all. On the whole, I think Cleopatra is a better movie, but Sign of the Cross has it beat as far as pre-code content goes.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

Claudette Colbert’s milk bath.

The lesbian dance scene.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Censors had a field day when Sign of the Cross was first released and many scenes had to be removed for post-1934 re-releases, which have since been restored. Many religious groups despised Sign of the Cross because not only was it full of violence, skimpy costumes, nudity, and one scene that is widely referred to as “the lesbian dance scene,” they loathed DeMille for taking a story they felt should be “theirs” and turning it into this movie that is jam-packed with depravity. Regardless of the fact that the movie condemns Christian persecution, Sign of the Cross still pretty much made censors’ heads explode.

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

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931

Plot

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

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


My Thoughts

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


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

Miriam Hopkins’ long, drawn-out striptease.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

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

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.

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

Merrily We go to Hell PosterJerry Corbett (Fredric March) is a journalist, aspiring playwright, and known around Chicago for his love of alcohol.  Heiress Joan Prentice (Sylvia Sidney) doesn’t drink, but when they meet, but there is still a connection between them.  They start seeing each other and Joan repeatedly invites Jerry to gatherings at her house, but he continually gets drunk and fails to show up.  When he finally does meet Joan’s father, he’s not at all impressed by Jerry.  And when Jerry and Joan decide to get married, Joan’s father offers Jerry $50,000 to go away.  But Joan is more valuable to Jerry than money and they get married anyway.

The road to the altar is far from smooth for Joan and Jerry, though.  Before their engagement party, he gets so drunk before the event, he passes out before he even gets to the party.  At the wedding, he arrives drunk and without the wedding ring.  The guests are impressed he showed up at all.  But despite all of Jerry’s problems, Joan is bound and determined to stick by him and she encourages his ambitions to write plays.  After many rejections, his play is finally picked up by a producer in New York.  And as it turns out, the producer has Jerry’s ex-girlfriend Claire (Adrienne Allen) in mind to star in it.  Jerry does his best to stay sober and stay faithful to Joan, but he completely falls apart again on opening night.

When Jerry falls off the wagon, he falls off hard and lives his life in a drunken haze.  He also starts having an affair with Claire.  When Joan finds out about it, she finally snaps, starts drinking, and decides that if he can cheat, she might as well do the same and starts having an affair with Charlie Baxter (Cary Grant).  Joan lives the high life until she discovers she’s pregnant.  She doesn’t tell Jerry and goes back to Chicago to live with her family.  Meanwhile, Jerry realizes how much pain his behavior has caused her and desperately tries to patch things up with her.

Merrily We Go to Hell is a good but not great look at alcoholism.  The story is good, the performances are good, the direction is good, but it just doesn’t seem to rise above being anything better than just good enough.  I feel like Merrily We Go to Hell tried to do what Billy Wilder would go on to do more successfully thirteen years later in The Lost Weekend.  But Merrily We Go to Hell did try to offer a cold, hard look at alcoholism and it certainly didn’t glamorize drinking.  Jerry is not a fun drunk and when Joan starts hitting the bottle, they are no Nick and Nora Charles. During a party scene, we don’t see guests cavorting happily with glasses of champagne in hand, we see guests passed out on couches.  It’s just not the hardest look at alcoholism that you’ll find.  Jerry’s attempt in the end to get his act together seemed  oversimplified and unrealistic.

Middle of the Night (1959)

A few years after the death of his wife, Jerry Kingsley (Fredric March) has resigned himself to a life of loneliness.  He’s 56 years old, his children are grown, he lives with his sister, and he works too hard at the clothing company he owns.  But Jerry finds some brightness in his life one afternoon when he stops by his secretary Betty’s (Kim Novak) apartment to pick up some papers for work.  The two of them get to talking and Betty ends up telling Jerry all about her failed marriage.  Jerry gives her some good advice, but ends up finding himself smitten with Betty.  The only problem is that Betty is young enough to be his daughter.

Jerry wants to pursue a relationship with Betty, but is afraid that it would be wrong of him to be in love with someone so much younger.  Betty also tries to proceed with caution.  But their relationship quickly gives Jerry a whole new outlook on life and they are soon engaged.  Naturally, the news shocks both of their families, although Jerry’s family eventually comes around to liking Betty.  However, Betty’s family and friends keep trying to convince her to get back together with her ex-husband George.  Soon the pressures start to get to Betty and Jerry and Jerry starts seeing any younger man who comes near Betty as a threat.  After the two of them fight one night, Betty comes home to find her ex-husband waiting for her and Betty is left to decide if she wants to go back to George or stay with Jerry.

I can sum up my thoughts on Middle of the Night in two words: overlooked gem.  It’s a very well written movie with strong direction and excellent performances from Fredric March and Kim Novak, but for some reason, it doesn’t get talked about very often.  Why it isn’t a better remembered film is beyond me.  If you’re a fan of either Fredric March or Kim Novak, this is a must see.  Both of them give some very honest and vulnerable performances.  If you’re a fan of the movie Marty, Middle of the Night should be right up your alley (both were directed by Delbert Mann).  Definitely keep an eye out for this one on the TCM schedule.

This is my contribution for the March in March Blogathon hosted by Sittin' on a Backyard Fence. For all things Fredric March, be sure to visit there for more blogathon contributions.

Design for Living (1933)

Design for Living 1933 Fredric March Gary Cooper Miriam Hopkins

Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and George Curtis (Gary Cooper) are a couple of artistic best friends.  Tom is a playwright and George is a painter.  They may not be rich, but they’re happy living together in their dingy apartment.  But all that changes when they meet Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins), an artist working for an advertising agency, on a train trip.  She immediately hits it off with both of them and the duo becomes a trio.  However, Tom and George both fall in love with Gilda and Gilda loves both of them back.  When Tom and George realize this, they agree to try to forget about Gilda, but that doesn’t last long.  The thing is, Gilda can’t decide who she loves more so she suggests that she move in with both of them so she can make up her mind.

When Gilda moves in, she helps the guys out by criticizing their work and inspiring them to be more creative.  She takes one of Tom’s plays and gives it to a producer, who agrees to produce it in London.  While in London, just as Tom is dictating a letter to Gilda and George about how much he’s looking forward to seeing them again, he gets word that Gilda has chosen George over him.  Even though Tom is heartbroken, his play goes on to become a huge success.  One night, he runs into Gilda’s former employer and wannabe lover Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), who tells Tom that George has become a successful painter.  Tom goes to Paris to see George, only to find he has moved to a swanky penthouse and that George is out-of-town working on a portrait.  He’s told he can talk to George’s secretary, who turns out to be Gilda.  Gilda and Tom quickly rekindle their romance and he spends the night at their place.  They are quite surprised when George returns a few days earlier than expected and immediately figures out what happened and throws both of them out.  But before Tom and Gilda can leave, she writes each of them a farewell letter and runs off to marry Max.

With Gilda out of the picture, Tom and George become good friends again.  However, once Gilda is married, she loathes having to entertain Max’s clients and playing inane party games.  The night Max is having a very important party for his clients, Tom and George decide to crash the party and hide up in Gilda’s bedroom.  When she escapes from the party and finds them there, the three of them have a great time telling stories and laughing.  After Max comes in and finds them, he throws them out, but they just go downstairs and start a big fight with the guests.  Gilda decides to leave Max and heads out with Tom and George to resume their old lifestyle.

I adored Design for Living!  Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins had real chemistry together, they were absolutely delightful to watch.  With Gary Cooper and Fredric March both at their most handsome, who can blame Miriam Hopkins for having a hard time choosing between the two?  The writing is smart, witty, and sophisticated, even if it was drastically rewritten from the original Noel Coward play.  Only one line from the original play made its way into the movie.  And with Ernst Lubitsch in the director’s chair, it’s got that infamous sleek, stylish touch.  I loved everything about it.  If you’ve never seen it before, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

I’m pretty sure everyone has a general idea of what Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is all about: a doctor invents a concoction that turns him into an evil creature.  But if you’d like to be more specific, Fredric March plays Dr. Jekyll, a kind and respected scientist who believes that all people have good and evil sides to them.  So Dr. Jekyll comes up with a potion which he believes will bring out the evil side of the person who drinks it.  Sure enough, the potion works and when Dr. Jekyll takes it, he becomes the hideous beast, Mr. Hyde.  As Mr. Hyde, he pays a visit to Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins), a barmaid and prostitute Dr. Jekyll had helped out earlier.  Mr. Hyde tries to come onto Ivy, and even though Ivy is terrified of Mr. Hyde, she can’t refuse his offer to take care of her.  When Dr. Jekyll realizes what he’s done to her as Mr. Hyde, he sends Ivy some money.  Ivy then visits Dr. Jekyll to personally thank him and begs him to protect her from Mr. Hyde.  Dr. Jekyll agrees to help her, but unfortunately, he soon begins turning into Mr. Hyde without even taking the potion.  As Mr. Hyde, he goes to see Ivy again and strangles her to death.  When he goes back to being Dr. Jekyll again, he vows to never make the potion again and decides to give up his fiancée Muriel (Rose Hobart) to punish himself.  But when he goes to call off his engagement to Muriel, he turns back into Mr. Hyde and attacks Muriel.  Muriel is saved, but Mr. Hyde runs back to Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory, where he is cornered by police.

The Academy Awards have always been a bit snobby when it comes to horror films, but I’m glad to see they were able to set that aside for once and give Fredric March the Best Actor Oscar because he really deserved it.  He played both roles superbly.  Well, actually that year was considered a tie between him and Wallace Beery in The Champ, even though  Fredric had one more vote than Beery.  The Academy just figured it was close enough to be a tie.  I also loved Miriam Hopkins’ performance, it’s really too bad she couldn’t be nominated for an Oscar for it.  A lot of her performance had to be cut out when it was released because of censorship, but I thought the scenes of her being terrorized by Mr. Hyde were outstanding.  She managed to get just the right mix of vulnerable and terrified.  Although one of her scenes is one of the most unmistakably pre-code scenes of all time:

This version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as a whole, is simply remarkable.  Not only for Fredric March’s and Miriam Hopkins’ acting performances, but the direction by Rouben Mamoulian, the cinematography, and the special effects.  It truly is a high note in horror films.

What’s on TCM: October 2010

Happy Halloween!  Before we get to the TCM schedule for October, it’s time for a little site news.  To celebrate Halloween, I’ll be reviewing a different horror film every Wednesday this month.  I promise it will be a mix between some typical Halloween favorites and some more unusual choices, so be sure to check that out.

Now, back to the TCM schedule.  Since it’s October, I’m sure it’s not at all surprising that there will be tons of horror movies this month.  Every Friday night is a night of horror classics from Hammer Film Productions.  Fredric March is the star of the month, which I’m pretty geeked up for.  Every Monday and Wednesday night is Critic’s Choice night, where two notable film critics pick two of their favorite movies to play.  Some of the critics include Leonard Maltin, Roger Ebert and Mick LaSalle and they’ve made some pretty great choices.

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