Miriam Hopkins

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 Story of Temple Drake (1933)

The Story of Temple Drake Miriam Hopkins

Plot

Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) is the granddaughter of a prominent Alabama judge, which lets her get away with lots of wild behavior. She has a reputation for being a party girl and for cavorting with lots of men, but all the men in town know she’s all talk and no action. She could settle down and marry respectable Stephen Benbow (William Gargan), but she’d much rather live the high life. At a dance, Temple turns down Stephen’s marriage proposal to go for a ride with a drunk Toddy Gowan (William Collier, Jr.) instead.

After Toddy crashes the car, the weather starts getting bad and they are forced to take shelter at a dilapidated mansion occupied by bootleggers Lee Goodwin (Irving Pechel), Trigger (Jack La Rue), and their entourage. Todd wants another drink so he leaves Temple alone to go play cards with the bootleggers. Temple has a horribly uneasy feeling about that place and desperately wants to leave, but has no way to get home. To stay safe, Lee’s wife Ruby (Florence Eldridge) suggests that Temple sleep in the barn with Tommy (James Eagles) guarding her. But that doesn’t stop Trigger from murdering Tommy, raping Temple, and forcing her to come with him to a brothel in another town.

Back at home, Temple’s absence is explained by saying she’s visiting family, but most of the people in town don’t believe it. When Stephen is appointed to defend Lee, who is accused of murdering Tommy, he goes to serve Trigger with a subpoena and finds Temple being forced to be his girlfriend. He tries to convince Temple to leave, but she refuses. Once Stephen is gone, Temple tries to make a break for it and when Trigger tries to rape her again, she shoots him. When Temple gets back home, she arrives just in time for Lee’s murder trial.


My Thoughts

Have you ever seen a Miriam Hopkins movie before? If your answer is no, then you need to see The Story of Temple Drake ASAP! She was one of the great pre-code actresses, but in Temple Drake, she gives a real tour de force performance. This is a role that gave her a lot of complexity to work with and allowed her to demonstrate so much range. This movie is a big reason why I think Miriam Hopkins is vastly under-appreciated as an actress.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

The rape scene.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Over the course of this essential pre-code series, I’ve written about a lot of movies that are about fallen women and Temple Drake is quite possibly the ultimate fallen woman story. In the beginning of the movie, she’s dancing around dangerously close to the edge, but when she falls, she falls hard. I love how The Story of Temple Drake doesn’t shy away from showing how completely terrifying the situations she finds herself in are and how reprehensible Trigger is. This movie goes way beyond being gritty and gets absolutely filthy.

Pre-Code Essentials: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Trouble in Paradise

Plot

When pickpocket Lily (Miriam Hopkins) meets notorious thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall), it’s love at first heist. They meet in Venice, where they are each posing as nobility in order to rob rich people. After they take turns robbing each other blind, Lily and Gaston fall madly in love and become partners in crime. As they steal their way to Paris, they set their sights on robbing perfumer Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis). While at the opera one night, Gaston steals an extremely valuable purse Colet had been carrying and when she offers a reward for its return, Lily and Gaston decide they’d get more money by returning it.

As Gaston goes to return the purse and collect the reward, he pretends to be Gaston Lavalle and charms his way into becoming Colet’s personal secretary so he can have easy access to her money. Lily naturally becomes Gaston’s assistant and isn’t impressed when she realizes there’s a romantic spark between Gaston and Colet. Even though Colet doesn’t believe in marriage and has turned down many other suitors, she can’t resist Gaston. But it isn’t long before some of Colet’s colleagues begin to realize that here new secretary looks awfully familiar…


My Thoughts

Lubitsch. Hopkins. Francis. Can you ask for any better ingredients for a delightful pre-code comedy? Trouble in Paradise is the cinematic equivalent of drinking a glass of champagne. It’s sharp, witty, light, and oh so sophisticated. This is definitely one of the all-time great comedies; it’s always a pleasure to revisit this one.

1932 was truly the year for Kay Francis to make witty movies where her character falls in love with thieves. This was the same year she made Jewel Robbery with William Powell, where her character falls madly in love with the thief who comes to rob the jewelry store she’s shopping in.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

As Lily and Gaston have dinner together in Venice and essentially seduce each other by robbing each other, particularly when he reveals he’s stolen the garter right off her leg.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

So far this month, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about movies where you end up rooting for the criminals, even though censors didn’t want moviegoers to be rooting for the criminals. Trouble in Paradise may very well be one of the ultimate examples of that. Lily and Gaston aren’t even thieves who are sorry for what they do or steal out of desperation, they steal for the sheer pleasure of it. But Trouble in Paradise‘s writing is so incredibly witty and the premise is presented in such an outrageous way, it’s easy to want to go along for the ride. The love triangle aspect of the plot was also pretty racy by 1932’s standards.

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.

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.

What’s on TCM: October 2012

October is upon us and that can only mean one thing — classic horror movies!  TCM certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department; every Wednesday night in October will be full of great horror movies to help you get into the Halloween spirit.  In addition to the great horror movies, there’s also a great Star of the Month — Spencer Tracy.  Every Monday night this month will be all about Spencer, but his movies also carry over into every Tuesday as well.

On Tuesday nights, TCM will be doing a series called “The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film,” which will examine how people with physical and mental disabilities have been portrayed in film.

One night that certainly sounds intriguing is the night of October 21st, a night full of animation rarities.  There will be selections of UPA cartoons as well as many cartoons from the silent film era, dating back as early as 1907!  I know I’m certainly looking forward to seeing those!

(more…)

The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

Niki von Preyn (Maurice Chevalier) is a Lieutenant in the Austrian Royal Guard.  One night, Max (Charlie Ruggles) asks Niki to join him at the beer garden to see Franzi (Claudette Colbert), a violin player, perform.  Even though Max is married, he’s got a thing for Franzi and thinks that having Niki along will make their date seem more legitimate.  But as soon as Niki sets eye on Franzi, he instantly falls in love with her and convinces Max that she is all wrong for him so he can have her all for himself.  Niki and Franzi’s relationship turns very passionate very quickly.

A wrench gets thrown into their relationship when the King of Flausenthurm and his daughter Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) come to Vienna.  Niki joins his fellow soldiers for their procession into town and Franzi watches on across the street from Niki.  Niki can’t resist giving Franzi a smile and a wink, but he does it just as the King and Princess Anna pass by.  Anna notices and since she isn’t the prettiest princess ever, assumes Niki is mocking her.  The incident makes all the headlines and when Niki is brought in to be disciplined, he tries to get out of this mess by saying that he was just so in awe of Anna’s beauty that he couldn’t help himself.  Flattery will get you everywhere with these royals and all is forgiven.  In fact, the King even arranges it so that Niki will be close to them for the rest of their visit, much to Anna’s delight.

Niki continues to secretly see Franzi, but Anna has developed very strong feelings for Niki.  In fact, she even goes as far as getting permission to marry him.  When Niki finds out about this, he is shocked and can’t figure out a way to get out of this mess.  With his relationship with Franzi now over, he goes ahead with his marriage to Anna.  But Anna is so uptight, dowdy, and dull that when he finds out that Franzi is in town, he starts seeing her again secretly.  When Anna finds out about this, she is very upset and wants to meet with Franzi.  Although Anna initially wants to kill Franzi, she realizes that Franzi would be a great person to get advice from on how to make Niki happy.  The two of them end up hitting it off and Franzi gives Anna some tips on modernizing her look and their visit ends with them singing a song called “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” together. Franzi’s advice proves to be a big success and Anna and Niki live happily ever after.

The Smiling Lieutenant is another one of those delightful Ernst Lubitsch pre-codes.  Super stylish, sophisticated, witty, and well acted.  The whole movie is so much fun to watch, but it’s worth seeing if only for the wonderful scene where Anna goes to confront Franzi, the sing their song, and Anna has her makeover.  It’s just so outrageous in the best possible way.  This is the kind of thing you could only get away with in the pre-code era.  Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins are such a riot together!  I love Miriam Hopkins in just about anything, but she was never better than when she was in Ernst Lubitsch comedies.

Trouble In Paradise (1932)

If you want to steal from wealthy people, you have to get close to wealthy people.  And what’s the best way to get close to wealthy people?  Pretend to be a fellow wealthy person!  That’s just what Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) does when he goes to Venice.  While pretending to be a Baron, he steals from plenty of prominent guests, including a countess named Lily (Miriam Hopkins).  Only Lily isn’t really a countess, she’s also a thief so she recognizes what Gaston is really there for.  He had her pegged, too, after she swiped his wallet.  The two of them are so impressed with each other’s thieving skills that they fall madly in love with each other on the spot.

Lily and Gaston are quite the crooks and they steal their way across Europe.  While in Paris, they steal a diamond-studded handbag belonging to Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), the owner of a very famous perfume company.  But when Mariette puts out an ad offering a 20,000 Franc reward for the bag’s return, they realize they’d make more by turning it in than by selling it and Gaston goes to turn it in.  But when Gaston gets there and realizes that Mariette is awfully careless with her money, he convinces her to hire him as her secretary, planning to embezzle money from her company.  The plan works and Lily even gets hired on as Gaston’s assistant.  The only thing that doesn’t go according to plan is that Gaston and Mariette fall in love with each other.

Eventually, Mariette starts bringing Gaston along with her to social gatherings, but some of Mariette’s wealthy friends recognize Gaston.  Plus people in the company are starting to suspect that Gaston has been stealing money for them.  Even though her friends warn her about him, Mariette doesn’t want to give up on Gaston.  Meanwhile, Gaston and Lily are planning to skip town, but Gaston is torn between staying with Mariette or leaving with Lily.  The last thing they had planned to steal was 100,000 Francs from her safe, but before they leave, Gaston decides to come clean to Mariette about who he is and what he was really there to do.  Lily interrupts his confession to announce that she is the one who has stolen the 100,000 Francs and that Mariette is welcome to have Gaston for that price and leaves Gaston to decide who he wants to be with.

I positively adore Trouble in Paradise.  It’s sharp, witty, got plenty of lavish sets, and a top-notch cast.  There’s no going wrong with Miriam Hopkins in an Ernst Lubitsch comedy, but when you add in Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall, plus Charlie Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton in some supporting roles, you’ve got cinematic gold.  I just love everything about it.  Trouble in Paradise is total pre-code and pure Ernst Lubitsch.

The Children’s Hour (1961)

Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) have been friends since they were teenagers.  They both decided to become teachers, and after they graduated from college, the two of them opened a private boarding school for girls.  After years of hard work, their school finally starts to turn a profit and Karen finally agrees to marry her fiance Dr. Joe Cardin (James Garner).  However, Karen’s decision is bittersweet to Martha.  She wants Karen to be happy, but is afraid of losing her best friend and that she will leave the school once she gets married.  Martha’s jealousy leads to her getting in an argument with her aunt and fellow teacher Lily Mortar (Miriam Hopkins), who tells Martha that her devotion to her friend is unnatural.

But every school has its problem children.  In this case, it’s Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin).  Mary is constantly getting into trouble and when Karen punishes her by not letting her go to some boat races that weekend, Mary gets back at her by telling her wealthy grandmother Amelia Tilford (Fay Bainter) that Karen and Martha are lovers.  She invented this story based on what her friends overheard of Martha and Lily’s argument and threw in some bits from a scandalous book she and her friends have been secretly reading.  Amelia is absolutely horrified, pulls Mary from the school, and calls all the other parents and gets them to do the same.

Karen and Martha don’t understand why all the students are leaving, and when they’re clued in, Karen, Martha, and Joe try to confront Amelia and Mary.  Joe questions Mary and even though he clearly catches her lying, Mary drags her friend Rosalie into the lie and Amelia sides with them.  Karen and Martha sue her for slander, but the case ends up being dragged into the media, they lose their case, and they become outcasts in town.  Joe proudly stands by Karen and Martha through the whole ordeal, but eventually, all the rumors make him question the truth.  Even Martha begins to wonder if the rumors were true.  Eventually, the truth does come out, but no amount of money from Mrs. Tilford can fix the damage that has been done.

I absolutely adored The Children’s Hour.  Exceptionally well written and beautifully acted all around, Shirley MacLaine particularly hit it right out of the park.  Her performance was truly compelling, heartfelt, and tragic.  This was a movie way ahead of its time and is still hugely relevant today.  Movies that deal with the ramifications of gossip were definitely nothing new in 1961, but I was impressed to see a movie deal with homophobia so frankly while the production codes were still in force.  Actually, this isn’t the first film adaptation of The Children’s Hour.  In 1936, it had been made into the movie These Three starring Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, and Joel McCrea.  But since the production codes were enforced much more strictly in 1936, they had to change the story to be about a love triangle between Martha, Karen, and Joe.  They couldn’t even use the original name because it was so tied to the original Lillian Hellman play.  I’ve never seen These Three, although now I’d like to, but The Children’s Hour is a very worthwhile movie.

The Chase (1966)

It’s never a small event when there’s a prison break.  But for the town of Tarl, Texas, it proves to be a life altering event for many of its residents when Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford) and another inmate make a break for it.  While they’re running, the other convict kills a passing motorist, steals his clothes and his car and leaves Bubber on his own.  However, Bubber has just enough time to accidentally leave his fingerprints at the scene of the crime.  He starts running for it, but finds himself headed in the direction of his hometown, Tarl.  Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) doesn’t expect him to come home, but the rest of the town isn’t so sure.  In such a small town, news of Bubber’s escape spreads like wildfire and it’s all anyone can talk about.  Everyone is speculating about where he’ll go next.  However, a few people in town have good reasons to be worried that Bubber might be coming after them.  There’s his best friend Jake Rogers (James Fox), who has been having an affair with Bubber’s wife Anna (Jane Fonda).  Then there’s Edwin Stewart (Robert Duvall), who once got Bubber sent to reform school for something he didn’t do.  Years later, Edwin’s wife Emily (Janice Rule) told Bubber the truth about what happened and he wasn’t happy.  Virtually the only person who has stood by Bubber is Mrs. Reeves (Miriam Hopkins), his mother.

When Bubber finds his old friend Lester while hiding in a junk yard, he sends Lester to find Anna and have her bring him some money and clothes.  While trying to find Anna, Lester is arrested.  Sheriff Calder finds Anna and Jake and brings them to see Lester in jail.  After their visit, Calder knows that Lester had just told Anna where to find Bubber, so they make a deal where she gets an hour to find Bubber and convince him to come to the station and surrender.  With all the town worked up and ready to hunt Bubber down, it’s the only way he could be brought back to prison safely.  Now, Sheriff Calder has a vested interest in seeing that this situation to be handled peacefully.  The whole town seems to think Calder is working for wealthy businessman Val Rogers only and Val is paying him to kill Bubber to protect Jake since Jake is having an affair with Anna.  But word travels fast in Tarl and a when word gets out that Bubber is in the junkyard, they gather around to drive him out.  Of course, the situation quickly spins out of control and literally becomes explosive.

The Chase is one of those movies where you look at the cast and think there’s no way that movie could go wrong.  But then you start watching it and you quickly realize that it has, indeed, somehow managed to go wrong.  When I was trying to decide which movie I wanted to watch and review for today, I was looking up some of the movies on IMDB and when I saw this one had a cast of Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickinson, and Miriam Hopkins, plus direction from Arthur Penn and was based on a Lillian Hellman play, I was definitely sold by the sheer amount of star power involved.  It’s too bad that once I actually started watching it, I found it really dull.  It moved slowly and there were a lot of times where I found myself looking at the clock and getting frustrated that it had only been ten minutes since I last looked at the clock.  For all the fantastic stars in this, the only performance that stood out to me was from Miriam Hopkins.  This simply isn’t a quintessential Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, or Robert Redford movie.

As far as I can tell, the main problem most likely came from producer Sam Spiegel meddling in ways he really shouldn’t have.  He got Lillian Hellman to write a script for the movie version, but then had it rewritten (although Lillian still got credited as the screenwriter) and wouldn’t even let her see the final cut before it was released.  Then he wouldn’t let Arthur Penn do the editing himself, so this movie doesn’t fully reflect Arthur Penn’s vision.  Maybe if Lillian Hellman and Arthur Penn had been given more control, it might have been improved.  But ultimately, if you missed this one on TCM yesterday, you really didn’t miss much.