Gloria Swanson

Male and Female (1919)

Male and Female 1919

Lady Mary Lasenby (Gloria Swanson) comes from a very wealthy, socially important family. She’s never had to work a day in her life and is used to having other people do everything for her. Her family’s butler William Crichton (Thomas Meighan) is in love with Mary, but Mary is a strong believer of marrying within one’s own class and is engaged to another upper class man. Tweeny (Lila Lee), one of the family’s maids, is in love with William, but he only seems to have eyes for Mary.

One day, Mary, her family, and their servants head out on a yachting trip and wind up getting shipwrecked on a deserted island. Naturally, the servants prove to be the most adept at survival while the wealthy family is completely clueless. With no money to divide the classes anymore, the tables quickly turn and the servants end up becoming the leaders. They are all left on the island for a couple of years and over time, Mary begins to fall in love with the William. They decide to get married in a simple little island ceremony, but right as they’re about to say their vows, a ship finally comes to rescue them.

When they return to home, everything goes back to the way it was. Mary and William still love each other, but when one of Mary’s friends visits, William begins to reconsider his decision to marry Mary. Mary’s friend has become a social outcast after marrying her chauffeur. William decides he’d rather marry Tweeny instead and move someplace where class isn’t so important.

I was really hoping to like this movie, but unfortunately, it just didn’t do anything for me. I’d heard so much about the famous scene where Gloria Swanson is together with the lions so I was hoping to like it if only for that. The story had a very interesting premise, but it just didn’t hold my interest. A little too slowly paced for my liking. It’s very typical of other Cecil B. DeMille movies from this era in that it takes a modern day social commentary and weave it in with a flashback to historical times; in this case, ancient Babylon. The Babylon scenes are classic Cecil B. DeMille with grand sets, Gloria Swanson in fabulous costumes, and those live lions which Gloria did, indeed, really lie down with. It’s ultimately unnecessary to the plot and slows down an already slowly paced movie, but it’s definitely a good example of what made DeMille the legend he is. A lot of other people seem to like this movie, but unfortunately, I just didn’t see the appeal.

Father Takes a Wife (1941)

Father Takes a Wife 1941When Frederic Osborne Senior (Adolphe Menjou), a man who has a reputation for never missing a day at the office, suddenly seems to have lost all interest in his business, his son, Junior (John Howard) is both frustrated and confused as to what’s brought on this sudden change in attitude. One day, Senior comes in and informs Junior he’ll be in charge of running the family business from now on because he’s fallen in love and is getting married.

The woman Senior has fallen madly in love with is Leslie Collier (Gloria Swanson), a famous actress who is planning to give up the stage to marry Senior. But the relationship between Leslie and Senior starts to become strained before they even make it to the altar. When Senior, Junior, and Junior’s wife Enid (Florence Rice) go to see her final performance in her play, Senior becomes extremely jealous of her over-affectionate leading man. Then before the wedding, they squabble over her insistence on continuing to use her maiden name. But they go through with the wedding and head off on their honeymoon cruise.

After they’ve set sail, Leslie and Senior find out Carlos Bardez (Desi Arnaz) has been found as a stowaway. Senior allows him to stay, and it turns out Carlos has been a successful singer in other countries and Leslie wants to help him launch his career in America. She becomes his impresario and Senior becomes extremely jealous of all the attention Carlos is getting from Leslie. It nearly drives Leslie and Senior to divorce, but when Junior and Enid try to help, Carlos ends up nearly driving them apart, too. Can Junior and Senior save their marriages and get Carlos out of the picture?

Father Takes a Wife is cute, but not remarkable. Adolphe Menjou has some nice comedic moments and Gloria Swanson isn’t bad in it, but the story falls flat. On the surface, the story sounded like it might have potential, but even with the decent amount of talent involved, Father Takes a Wife just doesn’t measure up. As a Gloria Swanson fan, I thought it was somewhat interesting mostly because it gave me a chance to see her in something that came after her silent films and before Sunset Blvd.; she didn’t make too many movies during that time frame. If you’re a particularly big fan of Swanson, Menjou, or Arnaz, you might want to give it a shot, but otherwise, you’re not missing much.

Sadie Thompson (1928)

When prostitute Sadie Thompson (Gloria Swanson) arrives on the island of Tutuila, she expects to only be making a brief stopover before going on to Apia.  But then her boat needs to be quarantined for ten days and she waits the time out by staying in a hotel along with religious zealot Alfred Davidson (Lionel Barrymore).  Sadie quickly makes friends with a number of soldiers in the area, including Tim O’Hara (Raoul Walsh), who is in love with her and wants her to go to Australia and settle down with him after his orders are up.

Davidson gets to work imposing his moral views on the island’s natives and particularly on Sadie, who he recognizes from her days as a prostitute in San Francisco.  Sadie absolutely despises Davidson and refuses to give into his demands to repent.  But then Davidson finds out that if she goes back to San Francisco, she will be arrested, so he goes to the governor to have him force her back to San Francisco.  He tells her that the only way to fully repent her sins is to server her sentence and then go straight.

Sadie’s spirit has finally been broken and she begins to repent the way Davidson wants her to.  She spends three straight days praying and decides to take on a more modest life.  When Tim comes to see her, he’s shocked to find the vivacious Sadie now a shell of her former self.  He does his best to get her away from Davidson, but she insists on staying.  However, Davidson, a married man, is beginning to have impure thoughts about Sadie.  He has no idea how to cope with the idea that even he can’t live up to his moral expectations so he drowns himself, leaving Sadie to make plans to leave for Australia with Tim.

Sadie Thompson was the last movie triumph for Gloria Swanson until she made Sunset Boulevard twenty-two years later.  Not only was Swanson the star, she was also its producer.  She had signed with United Artists the year before and made her first film for them, The Love of Sunya, which she wasn’t entirely happy with.  For her next film, she wanted to do something that was both cutting edge and a surefire hit.  So she met with director Raoul Walsh and they came up with the idea of doing a film version of the play “Rain.”

At the time, “Rain” was thought to be completely un-filmable.  It may have been a hit on Broadway, but with its subject matter, Will Hays would never allow it to be turned into a movie.  Not only that, a number of prominent producers in Hollywood had all agreed that they wouldn’t try to make a movie out of “Rain.”  However, Gloria was extremely clever about how she made this movie come together.

The key was not saying it was based on the play, but on Somerset Maugham’s original short story.  And then she got personal approval from the most unlikely of sources — Will Hays himself.  One afternoon, she spoke to Hays about a movie she wanted to produce and gave him a general outline of the story, the name of the author, and mentioned what she would change to make it meet his standards.  Hays didn’t notice the similarities between this short story and the play “Rain,” so he said it sounded acceptable to him.

Swanson and Walsh went to work getting the rights to the story and writing the script.  When they announced the movie, they didn’t make any big announcements to the press.  Instead, they took out a very small ad buried in the back of the newspaper and expected it to be overshadowed by the excitement of Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic.  But people noticed and all heck broke loose.  They received an indignant telegram from the MPAA, signed by virtually every major mogul in Hollywood.

Since so many of the signers controlled the major theater chains in America, their disapproval could have kept Sadie Thompson from being widely seen. Gloria wasn’t about to give up on Sadie, though, and personally appealed to every single name on that telegram.  The only person willing to go to bat and defend her was Marcus Loew, who was able to get the matter dropped.  Sadie Thompson went on to be a huge success and Gloria gave one of the best performances of her career.

Paramount in the 1950’s

Paramount in the 50’s just wouldn’t have been the same without Billy Wilder.  He made two of his most, in my opinion, under-appreciated movies at Paramount: 1953’s Stalag 17 and 1951’s Ace in the Hole.  But in 1950, he released a movie that defined not only his career, but the entire film industry — Sunset Boulevard.


Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980)

If you have an interest in silent film, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s thirteen-part documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film is essential viewing.  This series truly is a treat for silent film fans.  It’s very insightful, has a great narration by James Mason, and is chock full of interviews with actors and actresses, directors, producers, writers, cameramen, stuntmen, and journalists who were all part of the film industry during that era.

Quite a few big names were still alive at the time and were able to be interviewed for this documentary including Gloria Swanson, Janet Gaynor, Anita Loos, King Vidor, Hal Roach, Bessie Love, Mary Astor, Lillian Gish, Jackie Coogan, Colleen Moore, Louise Brooks, Frank Capra, and Charles “Buddy” Rogers, just to name a few.  Interviews with some of these people were quite rare, which makes this documentary an extremely important resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the silent film era.

Although the series was released on VHS and Laserdisc, due to copyright issues, it has yet to make its way to DVD.  Copies of the complete series on VHS are for sale on Amazon, but the asking prices are pretty ridiculous ($989 for a set?  Get out of here.)  I really hope the copyright issues can be worked out someday and it can be released on DVD, because it absolutely deserves to be seen.  In the meantime, the whole series is currently up on YouTube.  Each episode is just under an hour long, so it will take you a while to make your way through the series, but the time investment is absolutely worth it.   I’ve included a link to each episode along with my episode summaries.


What’s on TCM: March 2012

Happy March, everybody!  There are plenty of things I’m looking forward to on TCM this month!  First of all, there’s the tail end of 31 Days of Oscars.  The end of 31 Days of Oscars means the return of Silent Sunday Nights, and it’s back with some excellent silents.  Lovers of pre-codes should definitely keep an eye on the schedule this month because I noticed quite a few pre-codes mixed in there.  Starting this month, Drew Barrymore will take over Alec Baldwin’s co-hosting duties for The Essentials.  Karl Malden is the star of the month and I haven’t seen very many of his movies, so this is a good chance for me to see more of his work.  Every Monday night this month will feature films from the British new wave era, which is something I’m very eager to see.  So, let’s get on to all my highlights for the month:


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.