Joan Crawford

Sadie McKee 1934

Sadie McKee (1934)

Sadie McKee (Joan Crawford) works as a part-time maid in the home of the Alderson family, where her mother has worked as a cook for years. The Alderson’s son, Michael (Franchot Tone), has long had a crush on Sadie, but Sadie is in love with Tommy (Gene Raymond), who has just been fired from his job working for the Aldersons. While working at a dinner one night, she hears disparaging remarks about Tommy, tells them all off, and runs off to New York City with Tommy to get married.

Once they get into town, Sadie and Tommy meet Opal (Jean Dixon), an older, hardened nightclub performer who helps them get a room at a boarding house. They plan to marry the next day, but need to spend the morning looking for jobs. While Sadie is out job hunting, Tommy is taking a bath at the boarding house and when Dolly (Esther Ralston) overhears him singing, she recruits him to join her nightclub act. He accepts, but has to leave town immediately, leaving a heartbroken Sadie behind.

With some help from Opal, Sadie gets a job dancing in a nightclub and one night, a very drunk (and very rich) customer named Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold) insists that she join him at his table. It turns out that Michael is there with him that night. Michael warns Sadie to leave Jack alone, but she doesn’t listen and it isn’t long before they’re married. Although the marriage gives Sadie a boost in social status, she’s forced to deal with Jack’s alcoholism, which is on the verge of costing him his life. And although she deeply cares about Jack, her heart still hasn’t forgotten Tommy.

Sadie McKee is a pretty quintessential 1930s Joan Crawford movie. She plays a working class woman who finds herself moving into a higher class, she gets to wear some fabulous Adrian gowns, and it was directed by Clarence Brown, who worked very well with Joan. Plus it also starred one of her most famous co-stars, Franchot Tone. In addition to Tone and Crawford, Gene Raymond, Esther Ralston, Jean Dixon, and Edward Arnold are all great in their supporting roles. I thought Esther Ralston and Jean Dixon were particularly great in their respective roles; I loved the scene between Ralston and Crawford when she goes to confront Dolly. Sure, Sadie McKee may be a bit heavy on the melodrama, but it is entertaining and that’s exactly what I wanted from it.

The Bride Wore Red 1937

The Bride Wore Red (1937)

Count Armalia (George Zucco) has few illusions about his wealth — he firmly believes that being wealthy instead of being poor is a matter of sheer luck. To prove his point, he decides to send Anni (Joan Crawford), a singer in a seedy nightclub, to an exclusive resort where his stuck up friend Rudi (Robert Young) is staying. He agrees to pay for Anni’s stay at the resort, buys her new clothes, and has her pretend to be the aristocratic Anne Vivaldi.

When Anni arrives at the resort, she succeeds in getting everyone to believe her rouse, but it isn’t long before she finds herself in the middle of a love triangle. When Rudi sees Anni at dinner during her first night at the resort, he’s immediately drawn to her, even though he’s already engaged to be married. At the same time, Anni has caught they eye of Giulio (Franchot Tone), a postal worker who, unlike all the elite society figures around, has no interest in having money.

Although Anni is more attracted to Giulio, she’s really grown to love having the best of everything and now she doesn’t want to give it up. If she married Rudi, she could keep the lifestyle, so she decides to try everything she can to get Rudi to propose to her. Meanwhile, some of the other guests at the resort send for information about Anni and when the truth about Anni arrives at the resort, Giulio is the first one to find out who she really is and loves her anyway. Before her time at the resort is up, Rudi proposes to Anni. But what happens when other people at the resort finally find out the truth about Anni?

During a certain period of Joan Crawford’s career, she, quite famously, found herself labeled as “box office poison.” Although she certainly had some good company on that list (Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Fred Astaire also made the list), the film that reportedly earned her that notorious “box office poison” label is The Bride Wore Red. All I have to say to that is, “…Really?”

The Bride Wore Red isn’t anything earth shattering; this is not a Mildred Pierce or Humoresque caliber movie and it never tries to be that. But when you’re talking about someone like Joan Crawford, whose career had so many highlights, saying a movie doesn’t live up to the highest high points isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And in the case of The Bride Wore Red, it’s certainly not something to label someone “box office poison” over. (Even if you only look at her 1930s films, this isn’t one of the best, but it’s hardly one of the worst, either. Movies like The Bride Wore Red were meant to be light bit of escapism and that’s all. Sure, it’s a bit formulaic, but sometimes that’s exactly the sort of thing you want. You can be formulaic but still pull it off well and that’s what The Bride Wore Red does. It’s a pure “1930s MGM era” Joan Crawford role — she gets Franchot Tone as a love interest, she dreams of going from rags to riches, and there are excuses to get her into some Adrian gowns. But, what can I say? I like the formula.

What’s on TCM: March 2015

Ann SothernHappy March, everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying 31 Days of Oscar, which extends into March for a few days. But then it’s back to TCM’s usual schedule. March’s Star of the Month is Ann Sothern, which I’m excited about since I like her, but haven’t really seen many of her movies. The Friday Night Spotlight theme will be roadshow musicals and I have a hard time resisting a good musical.

What I’m most excited about this month is coming up on March 24th, an evening all about Alan Arkin. TCM will be premiering the Live from the TCM Film Festival interview Arkin did with Robert Osborne at last year’s TCM Film Fest. I didn’t attend the taping of that, but I did get to see Arkin speak with Ben Mankiewicz before a screening of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I found the discussion with Arkin so fascinating that it made me very eager to see what the longer interview had in store. This should be a real treat.

Now, on to the rest of the schedule…

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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: January 2015

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Happy January and happy 2015! I hope you had a nice holiday season. After all of the chaos of December, it’s time to relax with some TCM.

Overall, it’s a pretty calm month, but still has a lot to offer. January’s Star of the Month is Robert Redford, whose movies will be featured every Tuesday night this month. The theme for this month’s Friday Night Spotlight is movies based on the works of Neil Simon. On January 22nd, TCM will show a night of Debbie Reynolds movies in recognition of her receiving the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the schedule…

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What’s on TCM: December 2014

Bringing Up Baby Cary Grant Katharine Hepburn

Happy December, everyone! With 2014 in its final days, TCM is ending the year on a high note and there’s much to be excited about this month. December starts with a day of Joan Crawford and Cary Grant movies and ends with a night of movies featuring The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and in between, there’s a lot of musicals and, of course, Christmas movies, so this is truly my kind of month.

December’s Star of the Month is the eternally suave Cary Grant and his movies will be highlighted every Monday night this month.

Friday Night Spotlight will be showcasing movies directed by Charles Watlers. If you’re a big fan of musicals, you’re going to love Fridays this month.

Since it is December, of course there will be plenty of Christmas classics coming up. If this is what you’re looking for, be sure to keep an eye on the schedule for December 4th, 11th, 18th, 23rd, 24th, and 25th.

Now, let’s get on to the schedule…

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Pre-Code Essentials: Dancing Lady (1933)

Dancing Lady 1933

Plot

When wealthy playboy Tod Newtwon (Franchot Tone) goes to take in a show at a two-bit burlesque hall, he happens to be there the same night the police raid the joint. Some of the dancers, including Janie Barlow (Joan Crawford) are arrested for indecency and taken to night court for sentencing. Since Janie can’t pay the fine, her only option is to spend time in jail. Tod is attracted to Janie and bails her out. Once he gets to know her and sees the passion she has for dancing, he decides to help her land a gig on Broadway, despite her insistence that she do it on her own.

Tod makes an arrangement with producer Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable) to finance his new show if he gives Janie a chance. Patch is hesitant to accept her, but warms up to her when he sees her genuine talent and dedicated work ethic. Janie starts seeing Tod, but Patch and Janie also start falling in love with each other. Janie works her way up from chorus girl to being the star of the show, but when Tod begins to think that Janie wouldn’t have time for him if she becomes a big star, he pulls his funding for the show. But when Janie finds out what he’s done, she realizes where her heart really lies.


My Thoughts

Dancing Lady  is my favorite Joan Crawford pre-code. It’s so very emblematic of the early 1930s era of her career. Joan is great in it and she has the chance to work with two of her best co-stars: Clark Gable and Franchot Tone. An MGM movie with Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Franchot Tone hardly sounds unusual, but Dancing Lady is noteworthy for the fact that it also features The Three Stooges and the film debut of Fred Astaire. Where else can you see Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, The Three Stooges, and Fred Astaire together in the same movie? The story isn’t anything remarkable, the musical numbers aren’t particularly memorable, but the cast is solid enough to make it worth watching. It’s the kind of movie that knows it’s entertainment for entertainment’s sake and it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t, but it does exactly what it’s supposed to quite well. It’s great fun.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

At night court, the Judge calls Janie’s dancer friend to the stand:

Judge: “What’s your name?”

Rosette: “Rosette Henrietta LaRue! Occupation: hip swinging!”

When Janie goes to thank Patch for putting her in the show, he smacks her on the rear end and she enthusiastically replies, “Thank you!”


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

It doesn’t get much more definitively pre-code than having a major plot point hinge around a dancer being arrested for indecency. Janie is a classic example of a likable, sympathetic character who just happens to have an occupation that censors didn’t want audiences finding sympathetic. She may have worked at a burlesque joint, but most importantly, she’s a hard worker who was just trying to do the best she could and that’s something depression-era movie audiences could definitely appreciate.