Thelma Todd

Hot Toddy: The True Story of Hollywood’s Most Sensational Murder

Hot Toddy Book CoverWhen actress Thelma Todd was found dead on December 16, 1935, the circumstances surrounding her death would become a subject of much debate that would last for over 80 years. Did she commit suicide? Was it an accident? Or was she the victim of a crime?

Although there already had been a lot of speculation about how Todd might have died, the 1989 publication of Hot Toddy: The True Story of Hollywood’s Most Sensational Murder by Andy Edmonds brought that speculation to a new level by alleging that Todd had been the victim of a mob hit orchestrated by none other than Lucky Luciano, the major mob leader.

But is it true? Was one of Hollywood’s most famous unsolved mysteries orchestrated by one of the most notorious gangsters of all time? It’s hard to say. To this day, Thelma Todd’s death is officially considered an accident. But in the time since the publication of Hot Toddy, the Luciano theory has certainly become one of the most popular theories. And it’s hard to not be at least a little intrigued by it. As someone who has long been fascinated by this case, I know I was, so I’d had this book on my list of books to read for a long time.

Hot Toddy covers the entire course of Thelma Todd’s life, from her youth in Lawrence, Massachusetts to her time as a student at an acting school run by Paramount, her rise to Hollywood stardom, and her mysterious death. Although there had long been rumors that Thelma Todd had been murdered, Edmonds’ book stood out because she had anonymous sources who claimed to have been with Thelma shortly before her death.

In 1991, Hot Toddy was turned into a made-for-TV movie by the name of White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd, starring Loni Anderson as Thelma Todd. Now, that movie may eventually get a review of its own, but as I read Hot Toddy, I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, this totally reads like something that would eventually get turned into a made-for-TV movie starring Loni Anderson.”

Edmonds definitely had a specific image of Thelma in mind when she wrote the book. She really tries her best to set Thelma up to be a product of her father’s shady connections and her mother’s ambitions, desperately fighting to find something in her life that’s truly her own. Add Hollywood stardom, men, booze, pills, and gangsters to the mix and Hot Toddy gets pretty tawdry pretty quickly.

A few years ago, Michelle Morgan published another book on the Thelma Todd case titled The Ice Cream Blonde. Danny of pointed out that much of the biographical information in Morgan’s book comes from fan magazine interviews and letters to fans, which likely contained sanitized, studio-approved statements. And that’s a very valid point. But ultimately, I found Morgan’s style of writing much more palatable since she never seemed to have an agenda or an angle she wanted to work.

I will say that Edmonds’ book goes into more detail about Thelma’s pre-Hollywood life, which I did enjoy for the most part. I found the bits about her time at the acting school particularly interesting, since the whole concept of that school was a great example of how the film industry was trying to rehab its image after some noteworthy scandals.

But the big thing Hot Toddy is known for is claims about Luciano. As I mentioned, Thelma Todd’s death is still officially considered an accident, so this book certainly did not solve the case once and for all. How much you can believe it depends on how much trust you’re willing to place in her anonymous sources. I really wasn’t a big fan of the extended conversations that are detailed in the book purely because I have a hard time believing that any eyewitness to those conversations would remember them in such detail over 50 years later.

Aside from the Luciano claims, it’s worth mentioning that some reviews from Hot Toddy‘s initial publication pointed out mistakes in some of the book’s details. One review in the LA Times cited a basic geographical error in one of her claims. Anita Garvin, another actress with ties to the restaurant industry and friend of Thelma’s, was interviewed for Hot Toddy. A few years after its publication, Garvin was interviewed for a Mabel Normand fansite and had this to say about it:

AG: I swore that after what they wrote about Thelma Todd, you know “Hot Toddy,” I swore after I was interviewed on the thing I would never do this again: because they screwed the whole thing up! They were absolutely out of their minds. There wasn’t anything in that book that was worth five minutes of her time. What they did to Thelma Todd! “Hot Toddy” they liked the title, but I could see through whoever wrote it. (groans) Oh God!

WTS: That was Andy Edmonds.

AG: I know Andy Edmonds. But I knew Thelma very well, and she was straight laced. She never went through all these things. And she (Edmonds) even got my husband and I – had our business and things – she got that all wrong. It was at the old Monmart on Hollywood Blvd. near Highland. She had us on out on the strip someplace before there was a strip. She got everything backwards. And she interviewed me and I gave her the straight scoop on Thelma. But I think she just decided she knew because she probably liked the title “Hot Toddy” and thought she was going to make it “Hot Toddy!”

If you have an interest in the Thelma Todd case, Hot Toddy is a must-read if only for the fact that it’s the most well-known book about it. Or if you’re looking for something to read that’s a bit on the tawdry side, you might enjoy Hot Toddy. Regardless of why you read it, just be prepared to go into it ready to take a lot of its claims with a grain of salt.

The Mysterious Death of Thelma Todd

Thelma Todd

At 10:30 AM on the morning of Monday, December 16th, 1935, Mae Whitehead approached a garage where she was supposed to drop off her personal car and pick up the Lincoln Phaeton belonging to her boss, 29-year-old actress Thelma Todd. Mae was Thelma’s trusted maid who was tasked with picking up Thelma’s car each morning and bringing it down to Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, the restaurant Thelma owned and lived above with her boyfriend at the time, Roland West. Mae noticed absolutely nothing unusual about the scene until she saw her boss slumped over in the car’s front seat, still wearing the same clothes she had been wearing on the night of December 14th when she went to a party at Hollywood’s legendary Trocadero nightclub. Mae said she initially thought Thelma was just sleeping, but she quickly realized that something was horribly wrong.

Over 80 years later, the death of Thelma Todd remains one of Hollywood’s most baffling unsolved mysteries. Although official case records will tell you she accidentally died of carbon monoxide poisoning, the notion that it was an accidental death is very highly debatable. In the decades since her passing, numerous theories have developed about how she could have died, but there isn’t enough evidence to definitively prove any of them. Here are the facts we know for sure:

  • On Saturday, December 14, Thelma went to the party at the Trocadero, which was hosted by Stan Lupino and his daughter Ida. Thelma was the guest of honor and, for the vast majority of the night, seemed to be having a wonderful time.
  • During the party, Thelma had a brief encounter with her ex-husband Pat DiCicco. Sources vary on whether or not that encounter was friendly.
  • Roland West did not go to the party and told Thelma to be home by 2:00 AM. Thelma arrived at the party at 8:25 PM and at 1:50 AM, she asked Sid Grauman to call West and let him know she’d be leaving soon. But Thelma didn’t leave the party until 3:15 AM.
  • Thelma arrived at home at about 3:45 AM. Her chauffeur, Ernest Peters, is the last person definitively known to have seen her alive.
  • Thelma’s body was discovered in her beloved Lincoln Phaeton by Mae Whitehead on the morning of Monday, December 16th.
  • Thelma definitely died of carbon monoxide poisoning and must have been alive when she entered the garage.

At this point, it’s highly unlikely we will ever know exactly what happened to Thelma Todd between 3:45 AM on December 15th and 10:30 AM the following day. Everyone directly involved with the case and the original investigation is now dead and all we’re all left with is evidence and recorded statements that don’t fully line up with each other. But the debate over how she died is still ongoing. Let’s take a closer look at the main theories surrounding this case.

The Theory: Accident

Let’s start with the official ruling on Thelma Todd’s death: accident. At first glance, it seems like a perfectly reasonable theory. The idea that she had gotten locked out of her apartment and walked to the garage to warm herself up in the car, making the fatal mistake of leaving the garage door shut, certainly seems plausible enough. It wouldn’t have been the first time Thelma had gotten locked out of her apartment. Plus, she died on a December night and was dressed in a lightweight evening gown. Even in southern California, December nights can still get awfully cold, especially when you’re right by the ocean like Thelma was.

But under closer scrutiny, the accidental death theory doesn’t quite hold up. One of the main reasons why this theory seems so believable is because it wouldn’t have been the first time someone died of carbon monoxide poisoning by warming a car up in a closed garage. But it’s also partially a reason why this theory doesn’t quite gel. At the time of Thelma Todd’s death, carbon monoxide poisoning was such a widespread problem that there was a rather large media campaign running to warn people not to leave their cars running in closed garages. Thelma was also known to have an interest in cars, so between those two facts, it’s a bit far fetched to believe that she wouldn’t have known how dangerous it would be to turn the car on with the garage door shut.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence against the accidental death theory is the condition of Thelma’s shoes and her hair. It was very windy the night Thelma Todd went to that party at the Trocadero, but when her body was found, her hair was still very neatly styled. If she had spent any significant time outside in the wind, her hair surely would have been mussed, especially if she had walked to the garage.

Thelma Todd Death Map

Map showing the area of the garage and Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe

If Thelma had indeed walked to the garage from the spot where her driver dropped her off, it would have been quite a hike. For most people, walking from the garage to their home only takes a matter of seconds, but this was not an average situation. The garage where Thelma’s car was stored was quite a distance from her apartment. For Thelma to get to the garage, she would have either had to climb over 270 stairs or walk through some dark streets through a very hilly area. In either case, it was hardly a little stroll and her shoes surely would have gotten dirty and damaged in the process. But when her body was found, the wear and tear on her shoes simply wasn’t consistent with having walked that sort of distance. During the investigation into her death, an officer with a similar build tried making the walk in comparable shoes and her shoes were much dirtier than Thelma’s. Thelma’s feet were also clean and her stockings were undamaged, so she certainly didn’t try walking without her shoes.

Since the walk to the garage would have been so difficult, some people doubt that Thelma could have even made the walk. She wasn’t known for being a fan of exercise and particularly wasn’t fond of walking due to some old ankle injuries. After all, the entire reason why Thelma and Mae had their system of Mae picking up Thelma’s Phaeton and bringing it to the restaurant for her each morning was to spare Thelma from making that walk every day. During the investigation after her death, investigators had jurors make the walk involved in this theory and it was a very challenging walk even for jurors who were more accustomed to exercise.

It’s also questionable whether or not she was even locked out since her key was found in her handbag. Even if she had gotten locked out, there’s one rather large problem with this theory: she never trekked to the garage when she got locked out before. Instead, she simply broke a window to get the attention of Roland West to let her in.

Thelma Todd Garage

The garage where Thelma Todd’s body was found.

Theory 2: Suicide

If Thelma Todd didn’t die accidentally, could it have been a suicide? After all, if it’s believable that she knew the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, could she have done herself in? Not long before her death, she’d been receiving strange threatening letters. Near the end of the party, she received an upsetting message from an unknown person. She also had an encounter with her ex-husband at the party which, by some accounts, was not entirely pleasant. The chauffeur who drover her home that night said Thelma was unusually quiet and told him not to escort her to the door as he usually did.

Despite the fact that suicide also seems like a very simple explanation, it seems to be the theory that’s most quickly dismissed. According to her friends, all of her behavior indicated that she was looking forward to the future. Her film career was hardly over and she had just signed a new contract with Hal Roach. She was excited about her restaurant and the trunk of her car was full of Christmas presents for her friends and family. Some of her close friends like Ida Lupino and ZaSu Pitts stated that she had been raving about a mysterious new man in her life from San Francisco, although none of them knew who he was. Guests at the Trocadero party said she was in very good spirits that night. (At least she was in a lovely mood until about 1:50 AM when she received that upsetting message.) By all accounts, she hardly seemed to be on the verge of ending it all.

Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe

Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe

Theory 3: Murder

If Thelma Todd’s death wasn’t accidental or a suicide, that leaves either murder or natural causes. Although there was some initial speculation that she may have died of a heart attack, the medical examiner pretty definitively linked the cause of death to carbon monoxide poisoning.  With natural causes off the table, that leaves murder. But officers found no signs of a struggle or robbery in the garage. Thelma was found wearing all the expensive jewelry she had worn to the party and there weren’t any signs of injury, aside from a small amount of blood which is believed to have come from her lip when her head hit the steering wheel. With no sign of a struggle, how did murder become such a popular theory?

The possibility of murder came into the picture almost immediately, when Thelma’s mother Alice arrived at the garage on the morning of December 16th and stated that her daughter had been murdered. However, she later changed her story and said Thelma’s death was accidental. But over 80 years later, murder is still a very strong possibility.

There’s some evidence to suggest that Thelma may have gone somewhere else between the time her chauffeur dropped her off at home and the time her maid discovered her body on the morning of December 16th. During the autopsy, the medical examiner found that she had undigested peas in her stomach and a blood alcohol level of 0.13 at the time of death. Although Thelma had a couple of drinks at the party, by all accounts, it wasn’t enough to get her drunk. But the coroner who examined Thelma said that kind of blood alcohol level would have “stupefied” her. Also, nobody at the party remembered seeing her eat peas that evening, but during the autopsy, the medical examiner found that the peas in her stomach had only just started to be digested at the time of death, which throws off the theory that she died between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 AM on December 15th. Could Thelma have gone someplace else where she was served peas and more drinks? If someone had picked her up and taken her out again, it could explain how she ended up in the garage with neat hair and shoes.

The idea that Thelma went someplace else after being dropped off at home could also explain some of the encounters with her  that reportedly happened on December 15th. On December 15th, Thelma was set to attend a party thrown by Martha Ford, wife of Wallace Ford. According to Martha, she received a phone call from a person she believed to be Thelma, saying she’d be arriving at the party soon with a surprise guest. Thelma never made it to the party. Could Martha have been mistaken about the identity of her caller? Jewel Carmen, Roland West’s estranged wife, told police she had seen Thelma in the passenger seat of a car being driven by an unknown man, but her claims are highly questionable since she said Thelma was wearing a hat when she saw her, but no hat was found when her body was discovered in the garage.

Although Thelma was a very well-liked woman, sadly, we can’t say she was universally loved. Not long before her death, she was receiving those threatening anonymous messages. (The person responsible for those had been arrested and was imprisoned at the time of her death.) In fact, her chauffeur stated that in the past, she’d asked him to drive as quickly as possible because she was worried about kidnapping attempts. The fact that Thelma had a restaurant which attracted many celebrity visitors also made her a target for gangsters hoping to set up an illegal casino in her restaurant; something she adamantly did not want any part of.  So, who could have had it out for her?

The most popular (and most sensational) theory is that the notorious Lucky Luciano is responsible for Thelma’s demise. Around the time of her death, Luciano was operating out of Los Angeles, trying to gain a foothold in Hollywood’s illegal gambling syndicate. Certainly, Thelma Todd’s restaurant would have been a prime location for him to set up shop. Thelma’s ex-husband Pat DiCicco had mob ties, so it’s certainly plausible that she might have crossed paths with Luciano at some point. Supposedly, Thelma had dinner with Luciano at one point, during which he brought up the gambling and Thelma was overheard firmly telling him no before storming off. Could he have put a hit out on her, carried out in a way that involved picking her up and taking her out to eat before putting her in the garage? After Thelma’s death, Luciano abruptly left Los Angeles and never returned.

Lucky Luciano is hardly the only suspect in her death, though. Roland West later tried to claim he was responsible for her death, but there’s a lot of doubt about that since his version of the events leading up to the discovery of her body are riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. But many of Thelma’s friends had reason to believe West also had ties to the mafia and was more receptive to the idea of letting gangsters run an illegal gambling racket in the restaurant. Some theories suggest that Roland and some gangsters were waiting for her to come home so they could settle the casino matter. If Thelma had run into West and some of his associates after the party, it would explain why she would be willing to dine and drink with them. But when she wasn’t willing to play along with it, perhaps the now heavily-intoxicated Thelma was somehow taken up to the garage by one of West’s associates, who made it look like an accidental death. Exactly who the gangsters were and what West’s role was in the incident under this theory is totally unknown. If the mob was involved, it would explain why some people close to Thelma and Roland West were unwilling to publicly speak about what happened.

Regardless of how Thelma Todd died, one thing is certain: it’s truly tragic that such a talented woman died so young and after all this time, it’s still not clear exactly how she died.

The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd

The Ice Cream Blonde Book CoverOn the evening of December 14, 1935, 29-year-old actress Thelma Todd headed out for a party at the Trocadero night club. Her night was very pleasant for the most part and at about 3:45 AM, her driver dropped her off at the Sidewalk Cafe, the restaurant she was involved in running and had been living above. On the morning of December 16, Todd’s maid Mae Whitehead opened the garage where her boss’s car was parked and found Todd dead, slumped over the steering wheel of her car. It was the end of a promising career for a talented actress and the beginning of one of Hollywood’s most intriguing unsolved mysteries.

Since Todd was found dead in her car and her official cause of death is carbon monoxide poisoning, it’s easy to think it was a suicide. It’s true she had some frustrations with Hollywood, but according to her friends, she had been talking about her long-term plans very often just before her death, including during the last night of her life. Her loved ones had absolutely no reason to think she’d ever considered ending it all.

Another very popular theory is that she had gotten locked out of her apartment and decided to walk to the garage to warm up in her car, not realizing how dangerous that could be. It sounds logical enough, but at the time of her death, there had been a large media campaign running to warn people about carbon monoxide poisoning. Plus, she had an interest in cars, so it doesn’t seem likely that she wouldn’t have known.

There’s also the fact that the garage was a good distance away from her apartment, where she had been dropped off at. Not only was there a considerable distance between her apartment and the garage, it would have been a very challenging walk that involved either going up a staircase of almost 300 stairs or walking through hilly streets. Some jurors involved in the inquest doubted she would have been able to make the walk due to previous ankle injuries and generally not being used to exercise. The shoes she was found wearing didn’t show any signs of wear that would be consistent with making that kind of walk, nor did her stockings have any damage that would suggest she had been walking barefoot. It was also very windy the night Thelma Todd died, but when her body was found, her hair didn’t look mussed, like it surely would have if she had been walking any kind of distance. So how did she get from the apartment to the garage?

Last, but certainly not least, there’s the theory that she was murdered. In fact, when Thelma’s mother Alice arrived at the garage after the body had been found, the first thing she said was, “My daughter was murdered.” Although Thelma Todd was adored by the people she worked with, she had been receiving some mysterious threatening letters not long before her death. And since she had recently gotten into the restaurant business, some believe gangsters were interested in running an illegal casino in her restaurant and she wasn’t having it. Could it be that the gangsters bumped her off for refusing to cooperate? There were no signs of a struggle; the only laceration on her body was likely caused by her head hitting the steering wheel of her car as she passed out. There’s also the matter of her boyfriend and business partner at the time, Roland West, whose testimony about what happened that night was full of contradictions and inconsistencies.

Several other odd things happened during the last night of Thelma Todd’s life. While she was at the Trocadero, she spoke to Ida Lupino about a new man in her life, but the identity of this man is unknown. Before she left the party, she received a message that upset her a bit, but no one knows what the message was or who it was from.  The last person known to have seen Thelma Todd alive was the driver who dropped her off at her apartment. But when Thelma Todd’s body was examined, she had a rather high level of alcohol in her bloodstream and the autopsy showed that she had eaten peas shortly before her death. None of the other guests at the party remembered seeing her eating peas, nor did they see her drink very much, certainly not enough to be anywhere near as drunk as coroner found her BAC levels to be at the time of her death. So when did she eat the peas and drink the alcohol? The driver also stated that he didn’t escort Thelma to her door that night like he usually did; she insisted she go alone that night and seemed to be stalling about going home.

At this point, we may never get a definitive answer about what exactly happened to Thelma Todd in between the time her driver brought her home and the time her body was found. But in the new book “The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd,” author Michelle Morgan does an excellent job of laying out all the facts, outlining all the theories, and pointing out the flaws in some of the most popular theories. She also highlights some important evidence that’s often been overlooked over the years.

Over the years, Thelma Todd’s death has become somewhat sensationalized with other authors raising speculation that she’d gotten mixed up with the notorious gangster Lucky Luciano and was the victim of a mob hit. Morgan steers clear of sensationalism and presents the information in a straightforward way while remaining respectful to Todd, which I really appreciated. In addition to going over the case surrounding her death, “The Ice Cream Blonde” has a good amount of biographical information about Todd, which although not terribly in depth, does help give the reader context for her life.

Whether you’re a fan of Thelma Todd or have just heard about the case and want to learn more, “The Ice Cream Blonde” is well worth your time. It’s a very enjoyable and informative read that I found hard to put down.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Chicago Review Press.

Monkey Business (1931)

Monkey Business 1931

When Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo are found as stowaways on a ship, they have to avoid being captured by running all over the place and trying to hide as best they can, whether it’s blending in with a puppet show, posing as musicians, or trying to pose as the ship’s barber. When Groucho tries hiding in a stateroom, it turns out the room is occupied by Lucille (Thelma Todd) and her husband gangster Alky Briggs (Harry Woods). Lucille is attracted to him and when Zeppo ends up coming in, he and Groucho end up being hired to be Alky’s bodyguards.

Meanwhile, Zeppo has met Mary Helton (Ruth Hall), daughter of Joe Helton (Rockliffe Fellowes) and rival to Alky. When Chico and Harpo find themselves in Helton’s stateroom while on the run, they end up becoming bodyguards for him. A big confrontation is about to happen between the two gangsters and their feud continues after the boat docks, putting Mary in danger and leaving it up to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo to save her.

Monkey Business is pure anarchy. Although the plots to all Marx Brothers movies are pretty thin and basically only exist to serve as a catalyst to mayhem, Monkey Business seems to be the one where the plot matters the least — but that’s not a bad thing in this case. The main plot of the movie doesn’t really kick in until quite a ways into the movie and the everything leading up to that is just an excuse to have the Marxes running around the ship, wreaking havoc wherever they go. With lesser comedians, this movie would be a complete disaster, but the Marx Brothers were completely on top of their game and that’s what makes Monkey Business a true comedy classic. The physical comedy is absolutely brilliant and the jokes are pure gold. The Maurice Chevalier impersonation scene will never stop being hilarious to me. If you’ve never seen a Marx Brothers movie, Monkey Business is definitely not a bad place to start.

Call Her Savage (1932)

Call Her Savage PosterLike so many young women, Nasa (Clara Bow) loves to rebel against her father Pete Springer (Willard Robertson).  Or at least the he’s man she believes is her father.  Nasa’s real father is a Native American her mother Ruth (Estelle Taylor) was having an affair with until he was forced to marry another woman. Nasa is a very high-spirited and hot-tempered young woman, which drives her father crazy.  When he sends her off to a boarding school in Chicago, he hopes they will be able to get her to behave, but instead, she’s as wild as ever.

In a last ditch attempt to get Nasa to clean up her act, Pete tries to force her into marrying a man she doesn’t want to marry and plans to announce their engagement at a big party.  Nasa heads him off by inviting notorious playboy Larry Crosby (Monroe Owsley) to the party so she can have someone to cavort with.  When Larry’s girlfriend Sunny (Thelma Todd) shows up, she and Nasa get into a brawl.  And to top things off, Larry proposes to Nasa after the big fight and they get married right away.  That’s the last straw for Pete, who tells Nasa that he never wants to see her again.

Nasa and Larry’s marriage is extremely short lived, though.  After Nasa decides she’s done with him, she has a grand time living the high life on Larry’s dime.  But when she gets word that Larry is very sick, she goes to see him and Larry attacks her.  When she finds out the extent of Larry’s illness, she realizes she can’t count on him anymore.  And to make things worse, Nasa is expecting a child.  Her baby is born prematurely and she is left to care for him in a run-down boardinghouse.  When she needs medication for the baby, she resorts to selling herself to get the money.  But while she’s gone, there’s a fire in the building and her baby dies of smoke inhalation.

Even though Nasa has faced terrible tragedies, things start to turn around for her when she gets a visit from her old friend Moonglow (Gilbert Roland).  He’s come to tell her that her grandfather has died and left her $100,000.  She heads to New York, takes out an ad looking for an escort to accompany her, and  meets Jay Randall (Anthony Jowitt) when he responds to her ad.  Jay is the son of a millionaire, but keeps that a secret from Nasa, even though she figures it out for herself pretty quickly.  Jay loves Nasa, but their relationship ends after his father gets involved.  With Jay out of the picture, she gets word that her mother is dying and Nasa heads home to make peace with her past.

I have seen Lifetime movies that aren’t as overly melodramatic as Call Her Savage is.   Seriously, what doesn’t this movie have?  I think the only way this movie could have been any more dramatic is if they also made Nasa a drug addict.  Storywise, Call Her Savage is a bit disjointed.  There are times when it switches gears with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball.  Like after the scene when Nasa goes to visit Larry when he’s sick and he attacks her, then all of a sudden, Nasa is totally destitute and has a baby.  There’s not much of a transition there at all.  I also found the whole morality message about the sins of the father being passed on to his children to be really tacked on and forced.

By far, Call Her Savage‘s biggest redeeming quality is Clara Bow’s pure star quality.  She really saved this movie.  This was the second-to-last movie Clara Bow starred in and based on what I saw here, it’s really too bad she didn’t continue to make more movies.  Her voice was fine, her energy was terrific, and her acting was great.  This was the first time I saw Clara Bow in a movie that wasn’t a silent film and even though I thought she was great in silents, I actually liked her even more in this. Even if this is the only Clara Bow movie you’ve seen, you’ll have no problem understanding why she was such a big star.

The Ghosts of Old Hollywood

Betty Grable Halloween

Happy Halloween, everyone!  Halloween just wouldn’t be complete without a few ghost stories, right?  So for the sake of getting into the Halloween spirit, here are a few ghost stories featuring some familiar characters.  If these stories are to be believed, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you might still have the chance to encounter some of Hollywood’s most legendary stars.

Book Vs. Movie: The Maltese Falcon

When you have more than one screen adaptation of a novel, usually one is more faithful to the novel than the other.  However, in the case of The Maltese Falcon, it has two pretty accurate adaptations.  The first version, released in 1931 and stars Ricardo Cortez, Thelma Todd, and Bebe Daniels, does a pretty good job of sticking to the source material.  However, the 1941 Humphrey Bogart version is an even more accurate representation of the book.  It doesn’t stick to the novel exactly, but most of the dialogue is taken verbatim and the key story elements are kept in tact.

Most of the differences are pretty subtle and probably were changed for the sake of pacing.  For example, in the movie Sam finds out about La Paloma after he wakes up in Gutman’s hotel room and starts looking around the room.  It’s a much more drawn out process in the book.  In the book, Sam finds out Miss O’Shaugnessy didn’t go to Effie’s apartment like she was supposed to.  Instead, she had the cab stop to get a newspaper, then she asked to be brought to the ferry building.  So Sam gets a copy of the paper in question to look for clues, but doesn’t figure it out until he starts snooping around Cairo’s room and notices that the newspaper section with ship arrivals was of particular interest to him.  Although there’s nothing wrong with the way that part plays out in the book, if it were filmed that way, it would have slowed the movie down.  Another difference is that the character of Gutman’s daughter is completely absent from the Bogart movie (as well as from the Ricardo Cortez version, for that matter), but she wasn’t exactly a vital character in the book.

A lot of the other changes were definitely made because of the production codes.  What’s interesting about that content is that neither the 1931 or the 1941 version gets it exactly right.  The 1931 version tends to be a bit more scandalous than the book was, but it does include things that were in the book that couldn’t be included in the 1941 version.  There’s no way the 1941 version could have gotten away with the scene where Spade strip searches O’Shaugnessy after noticing that $1,000 of the $10,000 Gutman promised him was missing, but it was in the 1931 version.  The 1941 version also really had to downplay the fact that Cairo and Wilmer were both supposed to be gay, the 1931 version made that much clearer.  In the book, when O’Shaugnessy finds out that Sam has been talking to Cairo and that he’s prepared to offer more money than she can, she offers to sleep with him and proceeds to spend the night at Sam’s apartment.  When it comes to that part in the 1941 version, O’Shaugessy can’t offer herself to Spade or spend the night, so Sam just kisses her instead.  As for Spade’s affair with Iva Archer, the 1941 version actually depicts what went on more accurately than the 1931 version.  The 1931 version made that affair more salacious than the book described.  First of all, the book made Iva Archer out to be a little past her prime, which Thelma Todd most certainly was not.  There also weren’t any scenes involving Iva showing up at Sam’s apartment and finding O’Shaugnessy wearing her kimono nor were there any of Miles listening on the extension while Sam and Iva set up a tryst.

I really enjoyed reading The Maltese Falcon and I think anyone who likes either movie version would, too.  Like I said, what you see in either movie version is pretty much what you get in the book.  And since it’s not a terribly long book, either, I definitely recommend reading it.  As for which movie version I prefer, I think it goes without saying that the Humphrey Bogart version wins hands down.  The Ricardo Cortez version is good, but it doesn’t have the flawless cast and direction that the Humphrey Bogart version did.  I always loved the cast of the Bogart version, but while I was reading the book and got to read exactly how each character was described, I feel like that version had some of the most perfect casting of all time.  Nobody will ever make a better Sam Spade than Humphrey Bogart.

For more Bogie, be sure to visit Forever Classics for more Humphrey Bogart Blogathon contributions.

This is the Night (1932)

Claire Mathewson (Thelma Todd) is married to Olympic javelin thrower Stephen Mathewson (Cary Grant), but that doesn’t stop her from carrying on an affair with Gerald (Roland Young) while her husband is out of town for the Olympics.  One night, Clarie and Gerald were supposed to go to the theater, but then her dress gets caught in the car door and is ripped completely off, much to the amusement of the crowd in front of the theater.  They cut the night short and head back to her place, but on the way back, Claire tells Gerald that she’s planned a trip to Venice for the two of them.  Meanwhile, Gerald’s friend Bunny (Charlie Ruggles) stops by Claire’s apartment to drop off their train tickets.  What he doesn’t expect is to run into Stephen, who has decided to not go to the Olympics after all.  Of course, Stephen coming back really throws a wrench into Claire’s plans for Venice.  Thinking quickly, Bunny tries saying that the tickets were for Gerald and his wife, Claire was just going to tag along on their trip.  Stephen doesn’t quite buy that story, but he calls their bluff and insists on coming along, too.

The only problem is that now they need to find someone to pretend to be Gerald’s wife.  He tries hiring an actress, but she doesn’t want to upset her boyfriend and the she gets the out-of-work Germaine (Lili Damita) to go in her place.  Germaine goes to meet with Gerald, and of course Bunny can’t resist crashing the interview.  They initially have their doubts about her, but she manages to win them over and the next thing she knows, she’s on the train to Venice.  Claire doesn’t like her right off the bat and can’t stand seeing Gerald with her.  She tries to get Gerald to send her back to Paris, but she refuses to leave and threatens to tell Stephen what’s really going on.  But it turns out that Gerald isn’t the only one Claire has to worry about.  Stephen is a bit infatuated with Germaine.  In fact, Germaine is turning out to be the most popular lady on this trip because Bunny and even Gerald, despite his “strictly business” attitude, also begin to fall for Germaine.

Later, as Germaine is getting ready for a night out with Bunny, Gerald gets jealous and sends him away when he arrives.  Gerald takes the opportunity to really win her over and she falls for him, but is getting frustrated by this whole set-up and wants to leave.  But Bunny isn’t willing to give up so easily and tries climbing a ladder into her bedroom.  She tries to get rid of him, but he’s drunk and when he tries to leave on the ladder, he falls into a canal.  Stephen overhears the commotion, thinks there’s a burglar in Germaine’s room, and goes to investigate.  Gerald and Claire also both rush in and when they see Stephen and Germaine together, they get the wrong idea.  After he gets out of the canal, Bunny comes back to explain what happened and Claire realizes that the idea of her husband being in love with another woman has made her fall back in love with him.  Claire ends things with Gerald, leaving Gerald free to pursue Germaine.

This is the Night was Cary Grant’s film debut and was actually nearly his last.  He really didn’t care for this movie at all and hated it so much that he almost left the industry all together.  But luckily, he was talked out of it and the rest is history.  But even if Cary Grant didn’t like it, I absolutely adore it.  Actually, I’m kind of obsessed with it and I’ve mentioned before that I wish I could live in that movie.  I’ve heard some people call it a “poor man’s Ernst Lubitsch film,” but even a poor man’s Ernst Lubitsch is still pretty darn entertaining.  It’s hilarious and very pre-code.  The cast had great chemistry together, especially Charlie Ruggles and Roland Young.  And I just love how stylized it is.  I’m not even quite sure what to compare it to.  There are times when it kinda reminds me of a silent film with the way the outdoor night scenes are tinted blue and how in the very beginning, it’s just music and synchronized sound effects.  Then there are moments where it almost turns into a musical, but it doesn’t quite go all the way with it.  It’s certainly a unique one, that’s for sure.  I can’t get enough of it.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Movies I Want to Live In: This is the Night (1932)

Sometimes I come across a movie that is so incredibly charming, funny, and all-around stylish that I wish I could walk right into the movie and live in it.  1932’s This is the Night is definitely one of those movies.  Here are eight reasons why:


Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)

Mary Stevens M.D. 1933 Kay FrancisIn a time when it was rare for women to hold any job more advanced than a secretary, Mary Stevens (Kay Francis) manages to buck the odds and become a doctor.  She and her boyfriend Don Andrews (Lyle Talbot) both become doctors at the same time and even start their own offices together.  Even though many people are reluctant to be treated by a female doctor, Mary builds a good reputation for herself as a pediatrician.  Don, on the other hand, becomes only interested in climbing the social ladder.  He starts dating Lois (Thelma Todd), daughter of the prominent political figure Walter Rising.  With Lois in his life, Don becomes more and more neglectful of his practice and even begins to steal money from his practice.  After Lois and Don are married, he’s given a pretty nice political job, but he manages to blow that when he shows up to perform an operation completely drunk.  Don and Mary go their separate ways and they don’t see each other again until two years later when they run into each other on vacation.  Mary has become quite a renowned pediatrician, but Don is hiding from the law.  They begin having an affair again and decide they want to get married, but Lois’s father won’t let them get a divorce for at least another six months.  Once Don’s father-in-law has cleared Don’s name, the two of them return to New York to wait for the six months to pass.  But after returning home, Mary finds out she’s pregnant.  Thrilled, she’s dying to tell Don, but then he announces that Lois is pregnant so the divorce is off.

Mary heads off to Paris with her loyal friend and nurse Glenda (Glenda Farrell) to have her baby.  She had a healthy baby boy and is quite happy as a mother until she hears from Don that Lois wasn’t really pregnant after all so he’s able to marry her now.  She gets on the next boat back to New York, but on the trip back, she has to take care of two young girls with Polio.  Unfortunately, Mary’s baby also catches Polio.  She’s able to save the two girls, but her baby dies.  Mary is absolutely devastated by the fact that she couldn’t save her own baby and vows to never practice medicine again.  She’s on the verge of suicide when she finds out about a child who has swallowed a pin and is choking on it.  Not willing to let the child die, she dives right in and saves the child using her own hairpin.  With her confidence restored and Don still wanting to marry her, Mary is eager to start her life over again.

I thought Mary Stevens, M.D. was a pretty interesting movie.  It offered up a rich role for Kay Francis and gave Glenda Farrell the chance to play an awesome sidekick.  And it’s definitely interesting to see a movie about a woman doctor, because they were most decidedly a real rarity in the 1930s.  The ending gets pretty melodramatic and far-fetched, but it’s otherwise enjoyable.