Norma Shearer

Private Lives (1931)

The phrase “happily divorced” is one that easily applies to Amanda (Norma Shearer) and Elyot (Robert Montgomery).  Their marriage was extremely volatile, but now that they’re divorced (and thrilled to be rid of each other), they’ve both moved on and remarried; Amanda to Victor (Reginald Denny) and Elyot to Sibyl (Una Merkel).  After each of their weddings, they each head off to their honeymoons.  Imagine their surprise (and horror) when Amanda and Elyot find out they’re both honeymooning in the same city, in the same hotel, in rooms right next to each other.

They each beg their respective new spouses to leave immediately, but they both end up getting into arguments that end with Sybil and Victor storming out of their rooms.  Left alone, Amanda and Elyot step out onto the terrace outside of their rooms and start having a conversation.  They start looking back on their relationship and suddenly remember what it is that made them fall in love in the first place.  They kiss and impulsively decide to run away from their honeymoons and go to St. Moritz together.  The only thing standing in their way of happiness is their tendency to constantly get into fights, but they even think of a way to stop those.

At first, all is going well between Amanda and Elyot, but soon their arguments start popping up more and more often.  Eventually, their plan to stop arguments quits working and they get into a knock down, drag out fight that involves Amanda breaking a record over Elyot’s head and completely trashing their rented chalet.  The next day, they find that their new spouses have teamed up to track them down.  Sybil and Elyot decide that they aren’t going to divorce and Amanda and Victor do the same.  The two couples sit down to have breakfast together, but when Sybil and Victor get into an argument, Amanda and Elyot get such a kick out of seeing what they must look like, they once again decide to run off together.

Private Lives has some of my favorite acting by Norma Shearer.  There are some scenes where she says so much with just the glance of her eyes or the tone of her voice.  Definitely watch for her expression when she first realizes that Elyot is in the room next door and listen to the way she uses her voice when she and Elyot are reminiscing about their relationship, it’s great stuff.  The movie itself is fully of smart, witty lines that lent themselves perfectly to being delivered by Norma and Robert Montgomery.  The two of them had such a wonderful rapport with each other, it was a real delight to watch the two of them go to town with this material.

The Divorcee (1930)

While staying at a resort with some friends, Jerry (Norma Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris) decide to get married with one stipulation — that their marriage will be a marriage of equals.  Their friends are thrilled for them  and spend the rest of the night celebrating their good news.  Well, everyone except for Paul (Conrad Nagel), that is.  He’s been carrying a torch for Jerry and spends the evening getting drunk.  When the party’s over, Jerry and Ted leave separately while some others get into a car driven by the now very inebriated Paul.  Of course, this does not end well and he crashes the car and disfigures their friend Dorothy.

Ted and Jerry get married and out of guilt, Paul marries Dorothy.  Ted and Jerry couldn’t be happier together but that all comes to an end the night of their third wedding anniversary.  When some of their friends come over for a party, a woman named Janice (Mary Doran) tags along with one of the guests.  Not only has Janice already met Ted, but they had an affair one night when he was drunk and away on business.  When Janice corners Ted in the kitchen, Jerry catches them and immediately knows what’s going on.  She confronts Ted about it and he tries to brush it off, claiming that it didn’t mean anything, but Jerry is heartbroken.  After Ted leaves for Chicago on business, his best friend Don (Robert Montgomery) keeps her company while he’s out of town.  Since this was supposed to be a marriage of equals, Jerry decides to even the score and have an affair with Don.  After all, they were supposed to be equals, right? But when Ted gets back from his trip, Jerry breaks the news to him and suddenly Ted’s singing a different tune when Jerry says it didn’t mean anything.

As much as Jerry wants to make their marriage work, she can’t deal with Ted and his double standards and divorces him.  Jerry sets out on her new life determined to have plenty of affairs and boy, does she!  But while on a trip for work, she runs into her old friend Paul.  Paul is still married to Dorothy, but has never been able to forget Jerry.  The two of them begin having an affair and travel together all over the place.  Paul and Jerry even talk about getting married, but after Jerry meets with Dorothy, she doesn’t have the heart to take her husband away from her.  Meanwhile, Ted hasn’t been faring so well and has been hitting the bottle pretty hard in Paris.  When New Years Eve rolls around, Jerry decides to spend it in Paris, hoping she would run into Ted.  They meet again at a party and decide to start the new year by giving their marriage another try.

The Divorcee is one of the most essential pre-code movies and rightfully so.  I love the story, actually I think it would still make for an interesting movie if it were made today.  I don’t think it really gets enough credit for what an important movie it is.  The Divorcee is basically the movie that really put the whole pre-code era into high gear.  And if you’re unfamiliar with the pre-code era, then getting to see a woman like Jerry is a very interesting change of pace from how women were often portrayed in movies made under the code.  Norma Shearer is phenomenal in it, easily one of her finest moments.  I love the story about how Norma had to fight Irving Thalberg to get the part.  She desperately wanted the part, but Thalberg didn’t think she was right for it so to prove her point, she went and had some saucy pictures taken.  After seeing the results, he finally saw Norma’s point of view and let her have the part that went on to get her an Oscar.  It’s a great movie and if you have even the slightest interest in the pre-code era, you absolutely must see it.

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.

Escape (1940)

After many letters to his mother, German actress Emmy Ritter (Alla Nazimova), are returned marked “address unknown,” her son Mark Preysing (Robert Taylor) decides to go to Germany and make sure she’s all right.  At first, nobody is willing to tell him where she is or help him find her.  Eventually he finds out that she has been arrested by Nazis for helping German refugees and been sent to a concentration camp.  The only lead he has is a postmark on a returned letter, so he goes to the city on the postmark.  One day he meets Countess Ruby von Treck (Norma Shearer) and asks her if she knew what happened to Emmy or could find out for him.  At first, she really doesn’t want to get involved in this ordeal.  But later when she sees her boyfriend Nazi General Kurt von Kolb (Conrad Veidt), she asks about Emmy and finds out that she is indeed in a concentration camp.

When Ruby tries to tell Mark where she is, she doesn’t have the heart to break the news to him.  But she changes her mind when she later finds out that Emmy is set to be executed very soon.  She tells him to go back to America, it’s too dangerous to get involved with, but then he meets Dr. Ditten.  Dr. Ditten is a physician at the concentration camp where Emmy is being held.  He doesn’t realize who Mark is at first, but he happens to be a fan of Emmy’s and has been secretly trying to help her any way he can.  When he realizes Mark is Emmy’s son, he asks Mark to come see him the next day and gives him a letter she had written to her children that was supposed to be delivered after she died.  The next day, at the concentration camp, everyone thinks that Emmy has died on her own.  What they don’t realize is Ditten had given her a drug to just put her into a coma and signed the papers declaring her dead, even though she’s actually still alive.  When Mark goes to see Dr. Ditten, Ditten explains what he’s done and that he’s arranged it so that Mark could come claim the body for burial and Emmy could be taken out of the concentration camp in a coffin.  Mark calls up Fritz, one of Emmy’s former servants, to come help him with this plan.  They arrange to meet up in a tavern, but while waiting for Fritz to arrive, Mark is questioned by some Nazis.  Their questioning makes him nervous and the Nazis don’t buy his answers so they bring him to the concentration camp for further questioning.  He ends up finding Fritz there and it comes out that he was really looking to claim his mother’s body.  They do let Mark and Fritz take Emmy, but not without making them jump through a bunch of hoops first.

As soon as they think they’ve successfully got Emmy to freedom, the only road they can take turns out to be blocked.  Not willing to give up, Mark remembers that they are close to Ruby’s home and they head there.  Again, Ruby is hesitant about having them in her house, but has too much sympathy for Mark to throw them out.  By now, Emmy has come out of her coma, but is very ill.  Ruby runs a boarding school out of her house, so to avoid being caught, she sends all but one of her students to go skiing for a day (one was too ill to go).  Kurt isn’t as easily fooled, though, and is suspicious when he sees Mark at her house.  After she gets rid of Kurt, she helps Mark and Fritz disguise Emmy and steals a passport for Emmy.  But just as they’re about to leave, Kurt returns and Ruby sneaks them out through the back while she distracts him.  She tells Kurt that she doesn’t love him, she loves Mark instead.  The shock of the news gives Kurt a heart attack and he dies, giving Mark, Emmy, and Fritz ample time to escape for good.

I picked Escape to watch today because I had actually recorded it last year when it was part of Norma Shearer day but I had never gotten around to actually watching it.  After finally seeing it today, I’m not sure why I put it off for so long.  This was an excellent drama, very taut and suspenseful.  Lots of great performances to be seen here.  Even though Conrad Veidt was a staunch anti-Nazi, he sure played Nazis chillingly well.  I tend to prefer Norma’s pre-code and silent roles, but she was pretty amazing in Escape.  At first, I was a little disappointed because it seemed like she wasn’t getting much screen time, but she did start getting more time as the movie progressed and by the time the movie was over, she was at the top of her game.  I’m so, so glad that I finally got around to this one, I loved it.

Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Proudcer Prince

I’ve read quite a few biographies on classic Hollywood figures, but Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince by Mark Viera is really quite different from all of them.  Mainly, I was impressed by how this book does not waste time.  By the page five, Irving is meeting Carl Laemmle, by page eight he had worked his way up from office assistant to studio manager, by page twelve he’s battling with Erich von Stroheim, and by page seventeen, Louis B. Mayer is already coming into the picture.  It’s interesting that Mark Viera was so committed to cutting to the chase because he emphasizes that Thalberg lived his life not wasting time.  Due to his heart problems, Irving lived his life knowing that he probably wouldn’t live to be thirty years old.  So if he was going to do anything with his life, he knew didn’t have time to waste.  And I really appreciated Viera’s cut-to-the-chase approach.  I have read so many biographies that begin with long, drawn out family histories and I’m not particularly interested in that.  There’s none of that in this book.  A lot of books also tend to dwell on childhood years, and although that’s far more interesting to me than family histories, I’d rather get to the good stuff.  This book deals with Irving’s childhood years, but it only tells you what’s important.  You find out what the relationship was like between his mother and father, you hear about his childhood illnesses, how Irving’s mother drove him to seek excellence, and how he compensated for missing so much school by reading voraciously.  That’s the stuff that really formed him for the rest of his life.

But you shouldn’t confuse cutting to the chase with being un-detailed.  Actually, you not only get a lot of insight to Irving Thalberg, you also get a lot of information about the inner workings of Metro Goldwyn Mayer.  Lots of great stuff on his relationship with Louis B. Mayer as well as other key MGM figures such as Paul Bern.  The drama between that develops between Thalberg and Mayer definitely makes for interesting reading once Mayer starts trying to take Thalberg’s power away from him.  It’s got lots of stuff about his marriage to Norma Shearer.  And of course there are plenty of details about the productions of Thalberg’s movies.  Considering that Thalberg was the man behind Flesh and the Devil, The Broadway Melody, Grand Hotel, Tarzan the Ape Man, Show People, Red Dust, A Night at the Opera, The Good Earth, The Big Parade, and The Divorcee, just to name a few, it’s easily a worthwhile read for anyone interested in classic film.

There was very little I didn’t like about this book.  I feel like I should give a warning about the really graphic crime scene photograph of Paul Bern’s body that’s kind of randomly thrown into the picture section.  When you look through the picture section, it starts out with normal stuff like Irving with Carl Laemmle, some studio group pictures, wedding pictures, pictures from the sets of Tarzan and Red Dust, then boom, graphic crime scene photo!  And then you turn the page and it’s Norma and Irving on vacation and going to parties.

But crime scene photos aside, Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince is one of the most enjoyable Hollywood biographies I’ve read.  Not only is it great as a biography, at the heart of it is actually a pretty inspirational story.  A kid with serious health problems knows that he likely won’t live to see his thirtieth birthday.  He’s doesn’t have much in the way of formal education, but despite that, he manages to become one of the most powerful men in the movie industry by a remarkably young age.  He ends up running the biggest movie studio, produces some of the greatest films of all time, marries one of the biggest movie stars, and defies all expectations by living to be 37.  He may have died young, but he accomplished more in those 37 years than most people would in a century.

Live Post: The Debbie Reynolds Auction

Even though I’m broke and can’t afford to actually bid on anything in today’s auction, there’s so much amazing stuff up for sale today that I can’t resist trying to follow the auction as best I can.  So I figured I’d try my hand at live blogging and cover the auction the best I can as it happens.  I’m not going to cover every single item up for sale, but I’ll try to keep you updated about some of the more noteworthy items.  So stay tuned, sit back, relax, and live vicariously through other people who can afford to spend insane amounts of money on movie memorabilia.  And I’m just putting it out there right now: I would not be even remotely surprised if Hugh Hefner buys Marilyn Monroe’s white dress from The Seven Year Itch.  A million dollar absentee bid has already been placed on it, so it will definitely be sold for at least that much today.

If you want to follow along with the auction live, just go here, click on “Live Bidding”, then click the option to just watch the auction. There is a live video stream, but no audio.


Note – The selling prices I list here don’t include the buyer’s premium.  If you see articles about Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz test costume selling for more than a million, that source factored in the buyer’s premium.

3:12 PM – The first lot, a 1915 35mm Bell and Howell camera just sold for $32,500!

3:16 PM – Rudolph Valentino’s matador suit from Blood and Sand just went for $210,000.

3:19 PM – Mary Pickford’s headpiece from Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall went for $3,250.

3: 21 PM- Francis X. Bushman’s charioteer helmet from 1925’s Ben Hur sold for $30,000!

3:26 PM – Harold Lloyd’s suit and hat went for $4,000!

3:34 PM – Mary Pickford’s gown from The Taming of the Shrew sold for $17,000.

3:36 PM – Lots 17 and 18, both Douglas Fairbanks costumes from The Taming of the Shrew sold for $20,000 and lot 18 didn’t sell.

3:38 PM – One of Charlie Chaplin’s infamous hats went for $110,000!

3:40 PM – A Model T used by Laurel and Hardy sold for $32,500 and a pair of their suits went for $16,000.

3:42 PM – Carole Lombard’s gown from No Man of Her Own sold for $11,000.

3:47 PM – Claudette Colbert’s Cleopatra gown went for $40,000.

3:52 PM – Greta Garbo’s gown from Anna Karenina also sold for $40,000!

3:53 PM – Harpo Marx’s hat and wig went for $45,000!

4:10 PM – Lots 42, 43, and 44 are the paintings commissioned by Marion Davies and respectively went for $10,000, $11,000, and $17,000.  These really got the bidders going.

4:17  PM – W.C. Fields’ joke box sold for $35,000.

4:39 PM – Norma Shearer’s purple gown from Romeo and Juliet went for $20,000.

5:04 PM – Now we’re into stuff from The Good Earth and people went nuts for some of the furniture!  The pair of chairs went for $20,000, the opium bed for $20,000, two Paul Muni robes for $4,000 each, Luise Rainer’s shirt for $2,000, the lot of stands and other furniture for $3,500, and Luise Rainer’s jacket for $3,000.

5:13  PM – A gown worn by Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette and Lucille Ball in Du Barry was a Lady sold for $11,000.

5:44 PM – Oh, now we’re into a busy bunch of lots!  First up was Marlene Dietrich’s outfit from “The Boys in the Backroom” number in Destry Rides Again, which went for $8,000, one of Judy Garland’s test costumes from The Wizard of Oz went for $910,000, a test pair of the ruby slippers sold for $510,000, an extra’s jacket from the Emerald City scenes of the Wizard of Oz sold for $22,500, Clark Gable’s dressing robe from the production of Gone With the Wind went for $10,000, and Basil Rathbone’s famous Sherlock Holmes caped overcoat sold for $50,000!

5:54 PM – Vivien Leigh’s suit from Waterloo Bridge sold for $16,000.

6:09 PM – Gary Cooper’s military uniform from Sergeant York went for $55,000.

6:16 PM – A couple of costumes worn by James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, the satin jockey shirt went for $27,500 and the clown outfit sold for $15,000.

6:19 PM – Not so fast, Louis!  A suit worn by Claude Rains in Casablanca sold for $55,000!

6:53 PM – Took a dinner break and missed another busy bunch of lots!  Elizabeth Taylor’s riding outfit from National Velvet went for $60,000, Judy Garland’s “Under the Bamboo Tree” dress from Meet Me in St. Louis sold for $16,000, Judy’s dress from the snowman building scene in Meet Me in St. Louis went for $10,000, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra’s sailor suits from Anchors Aweigh went for $27,500 and $15,000 respectively.

7:00 PM – $22,500 for Joan Crawford’s waitress uniform from Mildred Pierce and $5,000 for Ann Blyth’s Mildred Pierce suit.

7:05 PM – Edmund Gwenn’s Santa suit from Miracle on 34th Street just sold for $22,500.

8:12 PM – The gold lame dress worn by Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway went for $8,000.

8:51 PM – The chiffon robe worn by Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire sold for $18,000.  Then it went into a bunch of items from An American in Paris with Leslie Caron’s peacock dress from the fantasy ballet number for $15,000, Nina Foch’s white halter gown from a party scene for $3,000, and a showgirl costume from the Stairway to Paradise number for $1,100.

9:05 PM – We have reached the Singin’ in the Rain part of the auction.  First were the green and white checked suits worn by Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly, $8,000 and $14,000 respectively.  Jean Hagen’s Marie Antoinette-esque dress sold for $5,500 and Gene Kelly’s period costume went for $9,000.  Debbie’s green and white leaf print dress went for $15,000, Gene Kelly’s jacket from the Broadway Melody Ballet number went for $6,500, Jean Hagen’s black and white fur coat went for $6,000, Donald O’Connor’s “Good Morning” suit didn’t sell, Cyd Charisse’s white Broadway Melody Ballet outfit for $7,000, and Debbie’s “Good Morning” dress went for $27,500.  A pink dress worn by Gwen Carter sold for $3,750, and a bunch of costumes from the “Beautiful Girl” montage brought $5,500.

9:22 PM – Now we’re getting into some of the Marilyn Monroe and Marilyn-related items.  First up is Marilyn’s red “Two Little Girls from Little Rock” dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which brought $1.2 million!  Then came the feathered hat worn by Jane Russell when she impersonates Loreli Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, that sold for $4,250.  Lauren Bacall’s wedding dress from How to Marry a Millionaire went for $8,000 and the car used by Marilyn and Cary Grant in Monkey Business sold for $210,000.

9:48 PM – A lot of two safari outfits worn by Grace Kelly in Mogambo sold for $47,500.  A Winchester rifle used by Clark Gable in Mogambo brought in $15,000.

10:00 PM – A couple more from Marilyn Monroe.  The gold dress from River of No Return went for $510,000 and her costume from the “Heat Wave” number in There’s No Business Like Show Business brought in $500,000!

10:52 PM – After a little break, we’re back with the dress everyone’s been waiting for — the infamous Marilyn Monroe white subway dress from The Seven Year Itch.  I fully expected bidding to be out of control for this one and I wasn’t disappointed.  It brought in an astonishing $4.6 million!

11:03 PM – Now we’ve got a couple from To Catch a Thief.  A coat worn by Cary Grant brought in $15,000 and an outfit worn by Grace Kelly earned a jaw dropping $450,000!

11:41 PM – A couple of dresses worn by Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember brought in $6,000 and $11,000.

12:17 AM – One of Lana Turner’s dresses from Peyton Place sold for $4,250.

12:22 AM – Lot number 407 is rather unique because it includes things worn by both Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth in Pal Joey.  It went for $6,500.

12:29 AM – Leslie Caron’s iconic plaid schoolgirl outfit from Gigi went for $65,000.

12:40 AM – Charlton Heston’s tunic and cape from Ben Hur could have been yours for the low, low price of $320,000!

1:32 AM – Marlon Brando’s naval outfit from Mutiny on the Bounty just brought in $90,000!

2:12 AM – Elizabeth Taylor’s famous headdress from Cleopatra went for $100,000 and Richard Burton’s tunic, cape, and sword brought in $85,000.

Oh, who cares what time it is anymore?  Yes, I’m still going!  Aren’t these people tired and broke yet?!  Janet Leigh’s yellow fringed dress from Bye Bye Birdie fetched $3,750 and Bette Davis’ blood stained dress from Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte sold for $11,000.

Another big item to watch tonight was Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot dress from My Fair Lady.  I fully expected it to exceed the $200,000-$300,000 and it sure did.  It went up to $3.7 million!

I would say that the hills are alive with the sound of music, but at this time of night, I’m pretty sure that’s a noise ordinance violation.  Julie Andrews’ guitar went for $140,000, her jumper from the “Do Re Mi” number for $550,000, her turquoise and green dress for $45,000, the peasant dress went for $42,500, and a pair of the Trapp children’s outfits sold for $35,000.

And at long last we have reached the Barbara Streisand part of the auction.  First from Funny Girl is her costume from “I’d Rather Be Blue” for $65,000, a lot of the other roller skating costumes for $2,500, the black velvet dress from “My Man” for $16,000, a bunch of stuff worn by the Ziegfeld girls in the “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” number for $7,500, Anne Francis’ silk dress for $1,800, and Kay Medford’s beaded shawl for $1,400.

A jacket worn by Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid brought $8,500 and a dress worn by Katharine Ross went for $16,000.

And back to Streisand.  The purple Hello, Dolly dress went for $55,000 and the gold dress for $100,000.  Surprised the gold dress went for that little, that’s how much it cost to make that dress back in the day.

You’ll be fascinated to know that a shirt worn in the cinematic masterpiece known as Grease 2 sold for $475.

We have finally made it to the final segment of posters/portraits!  The title cards for Blind Husbands fetched $2,000, the lot of three Gloria Swanson title/lobby cards sold for $1,200, the portrait of Gloria Swanson went for $8,500, the lot of two Mabel Normand lobby cards for $800, the pair of silent title/lobby cards for $1,600, the lobby card for Lon Chaney’s The Penalty for $1,700, and the lobby card for Chaplin’s The Idle Class for $1,600.  The portrait of Jean Harlow went for $11,000!

Now it’s high time I called it a night!  Good night everybody!

The Hollywood Revue of 1929

Before I saw The Hollywood Revue of 1929, I think the words I’d heard most often used to describe it were “historical curiosity.”  I’d also heard those words used to describe movies like The Broadway Melody, but they didn’t deter me from watching it and actually kind of liking it.  But after actually seeing The Hollywood Revue of 1929, I can safely say that it is, indeed, a historical curiosity.  All it is is a series of musical numbers and skits put on by MGM to show off their stable of stars and their shiny, new talkie technology.  For me, it was worth checking out just because I did have an interest in seeing things like Joan Crawford’s dance number and Norma Shearer and John Gilbert doing Romeo and Juliet.  There’s a certain charm to a lot of early talkies that’s kind of endearing to me and I got a kick out of some of the skits, but it’s really not anything spectacular.  It’s very dated, there’s no plot, and because it is a very early talkie, the sound quality is rather shaky.  Unless you’ve got a serious interest in film history or at least in one of the stars in this movie, I imagine it’d be pretty torturous to sit through.  But if you’d like to at least get a taste of it, there are plenty of clips on YouTube:

Strangers May Kiss (1931)

Strangers May Kiss 1932 Norma Shearer

Lisbeth Corbin (Norma Shearer) is a forward thinking young woman who isn’t one to bow to social norms.  The expectation that she particularly loathes is the idea that all women want to get married.  She and her boyfriend Alan (Neil Hamilton) are both perfectly happy with not being married.  On the other hand, there’s Steve (Robert Montgomery), Lisbeth’s former lover and current friend.  Steve still loves Lisbeth and repeatedly asks her to marry him, but she’s not budging on the whole “no marriage” thing.  Her anti-marriage stance is further cemented when one evening, she goes out to a nightclub with her aunt Celia and Celia catches her husband cavorting with another woman.  Devastated, Celia throws herself out of her apartment window.  When Alan has to go to Mexico for work, she follows him.  However, she soon learns the real reason Alan is content with not being married: he’s already married to another woman.  To add insult to injury, when Alan is sent on another assignment in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t arrange for Lisbeth to come with him.  Instead, he arranges a trip home for her.  Lisbeth is absolutely heartbroken and instead of going home, she goes to Europe, where she becomes famous for being the life of every party.

Two years pass and men are flocking to her left and right, including Steve, who has followed her all over Europe.  Steve still wants to marry her, but she’s even less interested in marriage than before.  She’s still carrying a torch for Alan and when she gets a telegram from him saying that he’s gotten a divorce, she’s thrilled and immediately goes to see him.  Unfortunately, he sent that telegram before he found out about Lisbeth’s new reputation and he is not at all pleased about it.  When she arrives, he refuses to see her.  Lisbeth is heartbroken again, but Steve proposes yet again, and she still turns him down.  The two of them return to New York and resume a relationship, until they run into Alan at the theater one night.  In the time they’ve been apart, Alan has forgiven Lisbeth and once again, Lisbeth goes running right back to him.

I really liked Strangers May Kiss.  The story had some flaws, but it had a good cast.  As always, Norma was fabulous in it.  So very charming, natural, and with just the right amount of vulnerability.  Plus it’s always a joy to see her with Robert Montgomery, who proves to be quite the scene stealer as the eternally boozy Steve.  I’ve been really into watching the 1960s Batman TV series lately, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a young Neil Hamilton in a starring role here.  Too bad I liked him much better as Commissioner Gordon because Alan was a real jerk.  I was definitely rooting for Lisbeth to wind up with Steve over Alan because it’s completely beyond me why anyone would want to end up with Alan.  Charming but tipsy should win out over someone who hides being married any day.  It’s also interesting to see a movie so openly challenging the idea that everybody must get married.  It’s just not an idea put forth too often in movies or on television, especially when it’s a female character.  Strangers May Kiss isn’t a perfect movie, but still very pre-code and worth taking a look at.

Riptide (1934)

Riptide 1934 Norma Shearer

When Lord Philip Rexford (Herbert Marshall) and Mary (Norma Shearer), a party girl socialite, are invited to a costume party and are given a couple of ridiculous costumes to wear, it turns out to be a blessing in disguise.  Before the party, the two of them meet and, upon seeing how goofy their costumes are, they decide to skip the party, ditch the costumes, and spend the evening together dressed as normal people.  That night leads to a whirlwind romance and an impulsive marriage.  Five years later, they are still happily married with a daughter and living in England and Mary’s wilder days seem safely behind her.  But when Philip has to take a trip alone, Mary quickly becomes lonely and accepts his Aunt Hetty’s invitation to take a trip to Cannes.  The two of them have a swell time, but things start to get out of hand when Mary finds out Tommie Trent (Robert Montgomery) is staying in the same hotel.  Tommie has quite a reputation of his own and had a thing for Mary in the past.  Unfortunately, Tommie’s hard-living lifestyle has caught up with him and left him nearly suicidal.  But when Mary shows up at his hotel room, everything brightens up for him.  She brings him down to the party, the two of them get drunk, and have a lot of fun together.  But when Tommie gets carried away and kisses Mary, Mary goes back to her room instead of being unfaithful.  Tommie tries to follow her back to her hotel room by climbing onto her balcony, but ends up taking a serious fall.

When Mary finds out what happened, she goes to see him in the hospital.  But when she is photographed kissing him very innocently, her marriage is torn apart by scandal.  Mary swears up and down that nothing happened, but given her past, he won’t believe her.  When Tommie was well enough, she had him come and tell the whole story to Philip, but that only makes things worse.  Eventually, Philip decides he wants a divorce and Mary begins a real relationship with Tommie.  But then Philip does some investigating and finds out Mary was telling the truth the whole time and asks her to come see him.  Still in love with him, she gladly goes, but Tommie decides to see Philip, too, to tell him how he feels about Mary.

Riptide was Norma Shearer’s final pre-code and compared to some of her other pre-codes, the story feels relatively tame.  It’s not as obviously scandalous as The Divorcee and it’s not like her character is challenging conventional values such as marriage like in Strangers May Kiss.  But it still definitely has its pre-code moments.  It’s got a former wild party girl trying to put her past behind her, a married woman cavorting with a former lover, and when the divorce papers are drawn up, she even willingly gives up custody of her daughter.  Norma’s performance here is one of my favorites out of all her pre-codes.  When her character was supposed to be fun, boy was she bubbly, fun, and free.  She was quite intoxicating to watch.  I also like the fact that she closed the pre-code chapter of her career with her best co-star of that era, Robert Montgomery.  I think it’s interesting that the pre-code era of Norma’s career really began and ended with movies both dealing with troubled marriages that also starred Robert Montgomery.  Riptide makes for a nice bookend to that era of Norma’s career.  And if for no other reason, it’s worth seeing just for Norma’s entrance dressed in her ridiculous insect costume.  Best Norma Shearer entrance ever!

A Lady of Chance (1928)

Welcome to what may be the first of many reviews of Norma Shearer movies to come in the near future.  I recorded about half the movies TCM played during Norma Shearer day last week, so I’ve been having a lot of fun watching them all.  The first one I watched was A Lady of Chance, and it sure was a good one to start off with!

In A Lady of chance, Norma Shearer plays Dolly “Angel Face” Morgan, gold digger extraordinaire.  Dolly works as a telephone operator in a ritzy hotel and while at work one day, con-artists Brad and Gwen spot her trying to get the attention of the wealthy Mr. Hammond.  Brad and Gwen recruit Dolly to go out with Mr. Hammond, get him to give her ten thousand dollars, and just when it looks like Mr. Hammond is getting too serious, Brad comes in, posing as Dolly’s husband, and makes off with the money.  While Brad cashes the check, Mr. Hammond goes to the police to report Dolly.  Brad and Gwen then try to tell Dolly that they couldn’t cash the check., but Dolly knows better and manages to sneak away with all ten thousand dollars.

The next day, Dolly happens to meet Steve Crandall (Johnny Mack Brown), who is in town for a concrete and tile exposition.  Since Dolly assumes Steve must be rich, she really turns on the charm.  She pays for his telegram, tells him that she doesn’t have a mother, pretends to sprain her ankle, the works.  Before she knows it, Steve is officially in love with her and proposes.  She accepts and they plan to get married right away, but just as she is packing to leave, Brad shows up and wants the money back.  She doesn’t give him the money and instead pretends that she’s willing to go in on another scam.  When Brad isn’t looking, she sneaks away, gets married, and joins Steve on a trip back to Alabama.

When they arrive in Alabama, Dolly quickly realizes that Steve isn’t rich after all.  He didn’t own a plantation, only lived next door to one.  Dolly was all set to return to New York, but realized she couldn’t leave him because she really does love him, even if he isn’t rich.  Meanwhile, Brad and Gwen have come down to Alabama and pose as Dolly’s cousins.  Dolly tries to convince them that Steve isn’t rich, but they don’t believe her.  She gives them the ten thousand dollars just to get rid of them.  But before they can leave, Steve comes home with the news that he has just sold a cement formula for $100,000.  Brad and Gwen decide they’re not going anywhere.

Dolly is terrified that Gwen and Brad are going to tell Steve all about her history.  She manages to get Gwen to keep quiet, but can’t figure out a way to keep Brad from fleecing Steve without admitting to her past.  Dolly eventually decides to go ahead and come clean and turn herself into the police.  She tries to tell Steve to go ahead and find a more deserving girl to be with, but in spite of everything, Steve still only loves Dolly.

I really loved this movie.  I’ve only seen a couple of Norma’s silent films, but after seeing this A Lady of Chance, I think she doesn’t get enough credit for her work in silents.  She gave a great performance, pretty restrained for silent film acting, and I really liked Norma and Johnny Mack Brown together.  Plus Norma got to wear many awesome hats!  I love great hats, and Norma wore so many great cloche hats here.  I wish they still made hats like those.  I’m a big fan of movies that pack a lot of great stuff into a short amount of time, and with a runtime of 78 minutes, I think A Lady of Chance certainly falls into that category.  It’s just a great little movie.

While we’re on the subject of Norma Shearer, if you haven’t seen this Norma fanvid set to Tik Tok by Ke$ha, you should check it out.  Alas, I can no longer say that I’ve never heard an entire Ke$ha song, but the video is really cute, I like it a lot.