Greta Garbo

TCMFF 2015, Day 1: Tours, Red Carpets, and Garbo

Waiting for the TCM Film Locations Tour with Thomas, Kendahl (A Classic Film Blog), Jessica (Comet Over Hollywood), and Danny (Pre-code.com)

Waiting for the TCM Film Locations Tour with Thomas, Kendahl (A Classic Film Blog), Jessica (Comet Over Hollywood), and Danny (Pre-code.com) Photo courtesy of TCM.

For the first day of TCMFF 2015, my day started by taking a bus tour of locations that were featured in various films. This is the tour Turner Classic Movies partnered with Starline Tours to create. Unlike many other tours of film locations you can take in Los Angeles, the TCM Movie Locations Tour is unique in the sense that it not only encompasses more films from the classic era than most other tours, it’s the only film location tour that visits downtown Los Angeles.

The tour takes visitors by locations such as Chaplin’s former studios, Paramount Studios, Echo Park, Los Angeles City Hall, and the Formosa Cafe, just to name a few. The bus itself was nice; very comfortable with lots of windows so all passengers have a great view of the places they’re seeing. There’s also a large HDTV so people on the tour can see the locations as they appeared on film and as they look today.

Bradbury Building

The Bradbury Building

There are two stops on the tour where visitors are able to get off the bus and spend a few minutes exploring: the Bradbury Building and Union Station. In both cases, you’ll find yourself wishing you could stay and explore the buildings more. Walking into Union Station is like walking into a different era; it’s absolutely beautiful. And I couldn’t get enough of admiring the architecture of the Bradbury Building.

What impressed me the most about the tour was the wide range of films it references. Since this is a tour organized by Turner Classic Movies, you can naturally expect most of the locations to be related to classic film, but there are some modern films represented in the tour such as L.A. Confidential and The Artist.  Of course, there are plenty of familiar titles like Rebel Without a Cause and Sunset Boulevard that are referenced, but the tour also talked about locations used for less instantly recognizable movies such as Buster Keaton’s Battling Butlers and Barbara Stanwyck’s The Miracle Woman. I never though I would ever go on a film locations tour and hear anyone talk about The Miracle Woman, so that one really made me happy.

If you’re going to be in the Los Angeles area and are interested in taking the TCM Movie Locations Tour, I definitely recommend it. If you’re like me and not from the area, it’s a fun way to see the town in about 3 hours. Visit the Starlines Tours website for more information about ticket prices and when tours run.

After the tour, I went out to lunch with fellow bloggers Jessica (and her lovely parents), Raquel, Kendahl, and Danny and spent some time hanging out at the Roosevelt Hotel before heading off to my next big event — watching red carpet arrivals for The Sound of Music.

A view of the red carpet from the bleachers.

A view of the red carpet from the bleachers.

Festival attendees who weren’t attending The Sound of Music screening were able to watch the red carpet arrivals from some bleachers that had been set up by the red carpet. I joined some other movie bloggers to brave the heat (it was about 90 degrees and very sunny that day) and wait in line for the opportunity to get a brief glimpse of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

Christopher Plummer

Christopher Plummer

Many of the celebrities who appeared on the red carpet were people who were guests at the festival such as Keith Carradine, Robert Morse, Leonard Maltin, Diane Baker, Peter Fonda, Norman Lloyd, and of course, Christopher Plummer. Although she wasn’t doing any other events at the festival, Shirley Jones also made an appearance. While some of the stars stopped to address the crowd, others moved so quickly it was hard to even get a picture of them. Most of the pictures I took at the event could be compiled into a series called “Famous People Shielding Their Eyes from the Sun,” but it was worth attending because it gave me the chance to see some people I wouldn’t have been able to see in person otherwise.

Queen Christina Garbo Gilbert

My first film of TCMFF 2015 was 1933’s Queen Christina with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. If you ever have the chance to see Garbo on the big screen, you must go. Garbo had a face that was made to be seen on a larger-than-life screen. I’ve always loved the movie, but being able to see it on the big screen brought out many little nuances in her performance I had never noticed while watching it at home.

As an added bonus, they screened a rare Queen Christina lighting test from the Academy archives before the movie, which was an absolute pleasure to watch. It was a 2-and-a-half minute long silent clip of Greta Garbo simply being Greta Garbo. Since these were just lighting tests, she was relaxed in a way that you don’t see her being when she’s actually acting. Plus some of the shots were close-ups, which were simply breathtaking. If Queen Christina ever gets a blu-ray release, that lighting test would make a fantastic bonus feature.

My Man Godfrey Powell Lombard

After Queen Christina, I got in line to see 1936’s My Man Godfrey starring the incomparable Carole Lombard and William Powell. I was still debating what I would go see during this time slot up until I got out of Queen Christina. I like The Sea Hawk and after saying I had never seen Breaker Morant in my post about what I was planning to see, several people told me, “You must see Breaker Morant!” so I was definitely intrigued by it. In the end, Godfrey won because I was in the mood for something light and fun, but I fully intend on seeing Breaker Morant sometime in the near future. Godfrey was a digital print, which looked absolutely stunning; I’ve never seen it look better. Not only was tonight my first time seeing Garbo on the big screen, it was also my first time seeing Carole Lombard on the big screen. In both cases, it was an absolute delight. The crowd for Godfrey was very enthusiastic, which always makes classic comedies so much fun to watch.

Cedric Gibbons and Grand Hotel (1932): One of Oscar’s Biggest Oversights

Grand Hotel 1932 LobbyGrand Hotel (1932) is best remembered for being the movie to popularize all-star casts. Before Grand Hotel, the only movies that featured so many big stars together were “revue” type movies like The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Show of Shows, which were popular in the early days of talkies and featured many of a studio’s top stars in a series of skits and musical numbers. While most other movies had just one male lead and one female lead, Grand Hotel took five of the biggest movie stars working at the time — Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, John and Lionel Barrymore, and Wallace Beery — and put each of them in a leading role.

However, there is one other person who should be mentioned along with Garbo, Crawford, Beery, and the Barrymores as being a major star of the movie: art director Cedric Gibbons. The exquisite Art Deco style sets he designed for Grand Hotel refuse to be relegated to the background.

Grand Hotel 1932 Lobby Desk

Grand Hotel is also noteworthy for being the only movie to win a Best Picture Academy Award without being nominated in any other categories — no nominations for writing, direction, or even acting. Despite the sheer magnitude of Grand Hotel‘s stars, it’s easy to see how they failed to get nominated in acting categories. Grand Hotel doesn’t have just one male or one female lead to choose from and categories for Supporting Actor/Actress wouldn’t be introduced until the 1936 Academy Awards.  However, it’s not nearly as easy to understand how Cedric Gibbons wasn’t nominated for Best Art Direction, which is one of the biggest Oscar oversights I can think of.

Cedric Gibbons was MGM’s top art director for most of its peak years. He started working at MGM in the 1920s and stayed there until he retired in 1956. Name a big hit MGM movie from the 1930s through the mid-1950s and it’s very likely Cedric Gibbons had a hand in it. He is credited as the art director for The Wizard of Oz, The Thin Man, Ziegfeld GirlMeet Me in St. Louis, Gaslight, On the Town, The Great Ziegfeld, The Good Earth, The Women, The Philadelphia Story, National Velvet, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Marie Antoinette, and Forbidden Planet, just to name a very select few. He even designed one of the most widely recognizable symbols of Hollywood: the Academy Award statuette. But for all of his contributions to film, Gibbons’ work for Grand Hotel is undoubtedly one of the crowning achievements of his career.

Grand Hotel 1932 Exterior ShotEven with Garbo, Crawford, Beery, and two Barrymores to contend with, Gibbons’ sets stand out so much, they become a character unto themselves. Some people might even argue the sets outshine the actors. Although the sets are extravagant, there’s nothing about them that feels artificial. After all, this is a movie set in the finest hotel in Berlin, the sets need to exude an aura of luxury and represent the epitome of early 1930s glamour. But the sets are so believable as a lavish hotel, it’s very easy to forget Grand Hotel was filmed on a Hollywood soundstage and not on location.

Cedric Gibbons’ Grand Hotel sets demonstrate what an integral part art direction plays in creating Hollywood fantasy. This is a movie about characters going through difficult times in their lives, so it’s not a movie people watch and think, “I want to be just like them.” However, the sets are so breathtaking, people do look at them and think, “I want to go there!” If you’re a lover of Art Deco style, you’ll desperately want to believe this was a real hotel you could go visit. The hotel may not be real, but you’ll wish the sets had been preserved and put in a museum somewhere. These were movie sets that went far beyond being sets and were works of art.

 

31 Days of Oscar 2015 Blogathon

For more Oscar related articles, stay tuned to Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club all month long!

 

What’s on TCM: September 2014

Melvyn Douglas Greta Garbo Ninotchka

Happy September, everyone! Summer Under the Stars is always a tough act to follow, but TCM does an awesome job of doing so. There are two huge things that I am very excited for. The first of which is Melvyn Douglas as Star of the Month. I have always loved Melvyn Douglas and he never seems to quite get as much credit as he deserves. There’s also a ton of his movies I’ve never seen, so I’m really happy to have the chance to see more of his work.

The second thing I am so, so excited to see is that every Friday this month will be a 24-hour marathon of pre-code movies! That’s right, 24 glorious hours of wild, fast-paced, innuendo-laden movies! Friday Night Spotlight isn’t just for prime time this month! With my annual 30 Days of Pre-Codes event, it’s no secret that I adore the pre-code era. If you have yet to explore much of this wild and fascinating era of film making, this is a golden opportunity because you’ll have the chance to see so many of the pre-code essentials (Baby Face, Three on a Match, Red Headed Woman, Design for Living, just to name a few) as well as many other great ones. Don’t miss The Story of Temple Drake on September 12 at 2:30 AM or Call Her Savage September 26 at 2:15 AM. They’re on late at night so it might be easy to overlook those, but they’re a couple of my favorite pre-codes and I don’t see them on TCM very often. If you only know Clara Bow as a silent film star, you’re going to be in for a real treat with Call Her Savage. 

Now, onto the rest of the schedule…

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Anna Christie (1930)

Anna Christie 1930 PosterWhen shew was five years old, Anna Christie (Greta Garbo) was sent to live with family on a farm in Minnesota.  Fifteen years pass and her father Chris (George F. Marion) has hardly made an effort to stay in touch with her.  Life in Minnesota hasn’t been easy for Anna.  Her family was cruel to her, she was raped by her cousin and she worked as a prostitute.  It’s all left her exhausted and extremely distrustful of men.  Finally she decides to get away from it all and sends her father letting him know that she’s coming to visit.

Chris is a barge captain who spends all his free time drinking and hanging around Marthy (Marie Dressler).  When Anna and Chris are finally reunited, they spend time together on Chris’ barge and begin to rebuild their relationship.  Anna even starts to enjoy living on the barge.  One night, Chris rescues a few sailors in distress and one of them, Matt (Charles Bickford), falls in love with Anna.  For the first time in years, Anna is finally finding a little happiness in her life.  However, Matt doesn’t know about Anna’s sordid past. Not even Chris knows the full extent of her life in Minnesota.  But when they find out the truth, can they still love and accept Anna?

“Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side.  And don’t be stingy, baby!” With those fourteen words, Greta Garbo successfully transitioned from the silent film era to the talkie era.  Garbo’s talkie debut in Anna Christie came a bit later than those of most other silent film stars.  She was such an important asset to MGM that it would have been a tremendous loss for them if she didn’t survive the transition to talkies.  The advent of talkies dealt a death blow to the careers of many actors and actresses from other countries because their accents were undesirable and MGM didn’t want Garbo to be one of the casualties.  They kept her in silents as long as possible, holding out for just the right talkie project.  Anna Christie turned out to be the perfect project for Garbo because her role called for a Swedish accent.

Some viewers might find Anna Christie dull because it is a very static movie without a lot of different sets or camera movement.  It’s an adaptation of a stage play and it does feel like a filmed version of a play.  However, Anna Christie is one of my favorite Garbo talkies.  First and foremost, I like the story so I don’t mind the static feel of the movie.  I really like Garbo in it; it’s one of my favorites of her sound films.  Anna is a weary woman and is there anyone who played weary better than Garbo?  And who can forget the wonderful Marie Dressler?  As great as Garbo is, Marie Dressler gave her a run for her money.  Dressler doesn’t get a lot of screen time in Anna Christie, but she sure made the most of the screen time she got.  Her scene with Garbo when Anna first arrives at the bar is one of my favorite scenes of Garbo’s career.

Dynamic Duos: Greta Garbo and John Gilbert

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Flesh and the DevilIn 1926, Greta Garbo was just a Hollywood newcomer.  She had signed with MGM and made two movies for them, audiences were liking her, but the studio didn’t quite know what to do with her.  They just couldn’t pin-point her type. She wasn’t a “sweetheart” type like Mary Pickford, she wasn’t a flapper like Colleen Moore or Clara Bow, so MGM tried to turn her into a vamp.  But Garbo was already getting bored with the vamp roles so she was less than thrilled at being cast as Felicitas in Flesh and the Devil, another vamp role.  Not only did the role not interest her, she was tired after having completed The Temptress and desperately wanted to go home to Sweden after her sister’s death and MGM refused to let her.

Little did Garbo know she was about to meet her perfect leading man in Flesh and the Devil.

While Garbo was still a new name to movie audiences in 1926, John Gilbert most certainly was not.  John Gilbert had been working in films for over a decade by then and his starring roles in prestige pictures like The Big ParadeThe Merry Widow, and He Who Gets Slapped made him one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  Like Garbo, he wasn’t particularly wild about his part in Flesh and the Devil, but the idea of working with this new star intrigued him.

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Flesh and the DevilThe first scene of Flesh and the Devil Greta Garbo and John Gilbert filmed together was the scene at the train station where their characters meet.  The immense chemistry between the two of them was obvious to everybody on set.  There was no denying there was a very real connection with them and as their scenes got more passionate, they had no problem keeping their performances up.  Clarence Brown, the movie’s director, said of them:

“It was the damnedest thing you ever saw. It was the sort of thing Elinor Glyn used to write about. When they got into that first love scene…nobody else was even there. Those two were alone in a world of their own. It seemed like an intrusion to yell “Cut!” I used to just motion the crew over to another part of the set and let them finish what they were doing. It was embarrassing.”

Before the release of Flesh and the Devil, the Garbo-Gilbert love affair had been getting buzz in the fan magazines, but nothing could have prepared movie goers for the unbridled passion they would actually see when the movie hit theaters in January of 1927.  It was a sensation, completely unlike anything audiences had ever seen at the time.  The New York Herald-Tribune said of it:

“Never before has John Gilbert been so intense in his portrayal of a man in love.  Never before has a woman so alluring, with a seductive grace that is far more potent than mere beauty, appeared on the screen. Greta Garbo is the epitome of pulchritude, the personification of passion. Frankly, we have never in our career seen a seduction scene so perfectly done.”

Suddenly, MGM had a big hit on their hands and they finally knew exactly what to do with Garbo — put her in more movies with John Gilbert.  Her next project was to be an adaptation of Anna Karenina with Ricardo Cortez as her co-star, but Irving Thalberg decided to replace Cortez with Gilbert and change the title to Love, so the theater marquees could read, “Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Love.”  The couple also starred in A Woman of Affairs in 1928.

The romance between Garbo and Gilbert was just as potent off-screen as it was on-screen.  Shortly after finishing filming on Flesh and the Devil, Garbo moved into Gilbert’s house and he spent thousands of dollars on renovations to make it more to her liking.  He even built a small cabin for her, surrounded by Swedish pine trees and an artificial waterfall, on his property to remind her of home.

Not only was there a romantic connection between Garbo and Gilbert, he was able to offer valuable career advice.  He helped her become a better actress, taught her how to be more sociable off-set, taught her how to get what she wanted at MGM and she even started working with his agent.  Garbo later told journalist Åke Sundborg:

“I don’t know how I should have managed if I had not been cast opposite John Gilbert…Through him I seemed to establish my first real contact with the strange American world.  If he had not come into my life at this time, I should probably have come home to Sweden at once, my American career over.”

However, their relationship was not meant to last.  Gilbert kept pushing marriage and Garbo simply wasn’t interested.  After making several proposals, the idea of Garbo and Gilbert getting married at the same time as director King Vidor and actress Eleanor Boardman came up and Garbo said yes to it.  But on the day of the wedding, Garbo left Gilbert standing at the altar.  Gilbert was understandably angry, but the relationship managed to carry on for a bit longer.

By 1929,  Gilbert was still longing to get married and Garbo still wasn’t interested. That was the final straw for Gilbert, who impulsively got engaged to actress Ina Claire instead and married her on May 9, 1929.  The day before the wedding, Garbo made a tear-filled phone call to Harry Edington, who was to be Gilbert’s best man, begging him to put a stop to the wedding.  He told her that she was the only one who could stop it, but not wanting to cause a scandal, she chose not to.

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Queen ChristinaThe couple reunited on screen one last time in 1933’s Queen Christina.  By then, the tables had turned.  Garbo was still one of MGM’s most bankable stars, but Gilbert had fallen on very hard times.  His career had gone downhill, he was depressed, and had become a very heavy drinker, but Garbo insisted that he be cast opposite her in Queen Christina. The chemistry between them was as good as it ever was and the movie was a hit, but it wasn’t enough to revive Gilbert’s career.

Queen Christina was the last hit movie for John Gilbert and he made only one more movie after it, 1934’s The Captain Hates the Sea, before dying at the age of 38 in 1936.  Garbo continued to act until 1941, but never had another co-star who even came close to matching the chemistry she had with John Gilbert.

Dynamic Duos Blogathon

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo are just one of many unforgettable duos being highlighted this weekend in the Dynamic Duos blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen and Classic Film Hub.

Fashion in Film: Berets

If you’re like me, you often find yourself watching films and seeing tons of fashion styles you would love to wear in real life.  I watch movies from so many decades and from so many different genres, if I actually did copy all the styles I like, I’d have one diverse wardrobe.  But if there’s one accessory you could easily get a lot of mileage out of, it’s a beret.  Berets have been a popular hat style for decades, so if you want to go for a Norma Shearer inspired look one day and a Faye Dunaway inspired look the next, a beret could easily work for both styles.

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1928-1929: Oscar’s Most Awkward Year

Mary Pickford Oscar

Mary Pickford with her Oscar.

As popular as the Academy Awards are, they can be a very controversial topic amongst movie lovers.  I think virtually every cinephile has their own list of movies that they think got robbed at the Oscars.  Some may even have their favorite and least favorite Academy Award years.  But one thing I think we can all agree on is that the nominees for the second Academy Award ceremony (covering 1928-1929) definitely weren’t the strongest group of movies ever nominated.

It’s not so much that 1928-1929 was a completely terrible year for movies, but the film industry had been turned completely upside down that year.  During the first Academy Award ceremony, The Jazz Singer was given an honorary award for revolutionizing the film industry.  By the following year, the impact of The Jazz Singer was undeniable.  The movies eligible for the 1928-1929 Oscars were part of the first wave of movies to come out in the wake of The Jazz Singer and the nominees that year are a better reflection of how in flux the industry was at the time than what the best movies really were.

Even though studios were scrambling to hop on the talkie bandwagon, the production of silent films didn’t come to an immediate halt.  Some truly excellent silent films were produced that year, but you’d never know it by looking at the list of nominees.  However, if some of those silent films had been nominated, that year would probably now be looked back upon more favorably.

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