Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) Whither Maude Eburne?
I am embarrassed to say that I have never seen Ruggles of Red Gap
, because for years and for no reason at all, I've been conflating it with The Paleface
. Quite wrong.
A youngish Charles Laughton
plays the eponymous Ruggles, manservant to the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young
), an oldish Bertie Wooster type who, we learn, has just lost Ruggles in a poker game to Effie and Egbert Floud, a couple of new money Americans (Mary Boland
and Charlie Ruggles
). The Flouds take Ruggles to their up-and-coming, but still untamed town of Red Gap in Washington State, where Ruggles meets his first cowboys (also a "blackamoor" and a "chinaman!") milks a misunderstanding and becomes romantically attached to Zasu Pitts
. That's the gist.
It's all good-natured stereotyping of the Wild West, nouveau riche society snobs, English nobility, American exceptionalism, and our country's special brand of historical ignorance. There was much whooping, back-slapping, and nicknaming ("You old maverick!" "C'mere you ol' grizzly bar!") to set off Mary Boland's unparalleled blustering expressions of mortification. Charles Laughton plays awkwardness so sweetly: at first while trying to fulfill his service role to a master that doesn't understand it, then again when he tries to act above his station as "Colonel" Ruggles. Eventually he comes out in the middle, like a good American. Also, he's the only guy in the bar who can recite the Gettysburg Address.
We were lucky enough to see the film at our local treasure, the AFI Silver
, with a small but respectable bunch of strangers, but it is also available on DVD at a certain megaconglomerate "book" store.
Baby Face (1933) Hot and dreary
I could watch this film on a loop all day long, if only to see Barbara Stanwyck
reel a man in with one glance then cut him dead with another. As Lily Powers, a miserable barmaid and sometimes prostitute, Stanwyck is at her cynical, tough girl best.
We meet Lily in her father's speakeasy in industrial Pennsylvania, serving factory workers and a crooked politician, to whom her father occasionally pimps her out. Lily has two friends: a barmaid named Chico (Theresa Harris
), and old Mr. Cragg, a Nietsche-reading cobbler (Alphonse Ethier
), who advises her to use her natural abilities to exploit what men want to get what she wants. After the accidental death of her awful father, Lily runs off to New York City with Chico and gets to work on what she wants — financial security and fine things — starting at the personnel office of a large bank and eventually making her way to the penthouse.
Dashing young Courtland Trenholm (George Brent
), the new bank president (you'll just have to see what happened to the old
bank president) puts the kibosh on Lily's activities, but eventually finds her as enchanting as other men have before, and she's back on track.
At the time this film was made the Motion Picture Production Code
was in place, but not rigidly enforced, and Baby Face
was one of the pictures that kicked compliance into high gear. Reaction to the first release of the film caused such outrage that Warner Bros. had to recut it to tone done the "luridness" and tack on an ending more in keeping with the precepts of the Code.
You can see both versions on Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 1.
(read the video review of the film here
), and you really, really should.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) She doesn't kill him or anything.
Kerr #2 and Roger Livesey
I will never get tired of watching this movie.
One of the best films about war and friendship ever made, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
follows the military career of British General, Clive Candy (Roger Livesey
), over the span of 40 important imperial years, his friendship with German soldier, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (my boyfriend, Anton Walbrook
), and three women he loves, all played by 22-year-old Deborah Kerr
, who is, sadly, suddenly, much too young to be my girlfriend.
The two friends meet during the Boer Wars
under circumstances I won't spoil. The event is a beautifully told bit of military and political history, and Roger Livesey, a sadly underrated actor, has one scene in particular that is profoundly funny and adorable in which he utters not one word. The relationship between the two men is strengthened by their mutual love of an English governess (Kerr #1), who marries the German and breaks the heart of his friend, who, being British, keeps it to himself until World War II
After years of confirmed bachelorhood, General Candy meets a young nurse (Kerr #2) in the Great War
who looks uncannily like his lost love (Kerr #1) and marries her. But this particular war puts an understandable strain on the two soldiers's friendship. They meet under difficult circumstances at war's end and buddy it out.
By the time the "current" war is on, both Kerr #1 and Kerr #2 have died, and Gen. Candy is being driven around by a young woman in uniform (Kerr #3) who bears a striking resemblance to both. The friends are reunited, but I won't say how.Powell & Pressburger
were responsible for some of the best technicolor poems of all time — The Red Shoes
, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus
— but in Blimp
the storytelling is so exquisite and well-paced that you don't realize until it's over that you've been sitting there for 163 minutes.
It's got something for everyone: love, war, friendship, and the decline of empire.
So Young, So Bad (1950)
I must admit, I had this film on my Netflix queue months before borrowing Rita Moreno's memoir from my friend, Marc. I hadn't realized she was in it (her first film, as "Rosita Moreno") or how good Anne Jackson is generally, or that it's not the girlie reform school flick I'd expected it to be. I put it on my list for Anne Francis, an actress whose Barbie-good looks probably kept her in roles that didn't do her talent justice.
Oh, and to confirm that Paul Henreid can put me to sleep in anything he does. He can and he did.
The film covers the social problem of young, uncared for girls -- vagrants, runaways, teenage mothers, lesbians (obviously), and the mentally unstable. Henreid plays an idealistic psychiatrist who learns a thing or two about institutionalization and heartbreak, but not before Rita Moreno's character kills herself and nothing really changes. According to her memoir, in fact, Henreid copped a feel at every opportunity, particularly when taking Moreno's character's body down from her makeshift gallows.
It's not an especially memorable movie, but there is some good camera work and a few fine performances. 20th Century Fox released this picture exactly one day (May 20, 1950) after Warner Bros. released the excellent Caged (May 19, 1950). Perhaps that's why this pretty good, low-budget movie is all but forgotten? I really enjoyed it.
Paths of Glory (1957) Finally saw the Kubrick in it.
I don't know what happened. I used to
*love* Paths of Glory
would recommend it highly to anyone who hadn't seen it or wanted an insight into what made The Great War
so great a topic — but I watched it again the other day after not having seen it for a couple of years and just couldn't bear it.
At least not when anyone spoke. With the notable exception of Adolphe Menjou
. And those of you who know how I feel about him will understand why this is a big exception. Kubrick
was supposedly an "actor's director," but the performances in this picture are caricature at best and, you should pardon the expression, over the top at worst. Kirk Douglas
is very good, sure, but he has to clench his jaw so much, so often, even when blowing that goddamned whistle, it's just painful.
Why did I like it so much before? The story is compelling: a company commander is forced to select three soldiers from among his men for court martial when a campaign ordered by an ambitious general (scarry old George Macready
) fails horribly and scapegoats are needed. Like other Kubrick flicks, there are some scenes that are beautifully set up and executed — the tracking shot through the trenches, the terrified German girl singing — the starkness, the contrast between the French HQ and the brigade command quarters. Still worth it for that? Sure. But the story deserved a more artful telling.
So if you want a good miscarriage of justice movie set in approximately the same era, try Breaker Morant
(1980). And if you want a better WWI treatise, you can't go wrong with Series 4 of Blackadder
The Patsy (1928) So much funnier than Carole Lombard.
So many things about Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane
make sense now. Until yesterday, I had never seen Marion Davies
do anything, because I just assumed
I wouldn't like her on accounta that big ape, William Randolph Hearst
. Well, we all know what happens when we assume,
and I don't know about you
but it sure made an ass out of me
directed by King Vidor
(a guy I already love for The Big Parade
), is a light romantic comedy about a goofy kid sister (Davies) who is in love with her elder sister's boyfriend. The sister (Jane Winton
) has her eye on a more devil-may-care playboy, whose fortune their social-climbing mother, the magnificent Marie Dressler
, finds very attractive. The usual crazy, mixed up stuff happens and it's no surprise when everyone winds up with who they're supposed to be with; even the parents get a little closer together.
It's a sweet, fairly modern, often hilariously funny film, with every player contributing. Davies (who by all accounts was a very generous actress) insisted that Dressler's funniest bits stay in the picture, and it was The Patsy
that revived the 62-year-old actress's flagging career.
I'm now going to ruin one of the funniest bits of business for you. This is the part of the film I had heard about and was kind of bracing myself for: Marion Davies spoofing popular film stars of the day. I wasn't worried so much about her
, but the crowd. There are many kinds of lovely, interesting people who attend silent films in this day and age, but there are some who laugh too loud at period jokes, hiss at villains, and titter or boo at outdated depictions of women and non-white people. Davies was So Good at this that all laughter was genuine and raucous. I've never seen Pola Negri
on screen, for instance, but after Davies' portrayal I could now pick her out of a vamp lineup in a hearbeat.
Her Lillian Gish
will knock your socks off.
The First Born (1928) Don't trust him, Sister!
Spectacular film written and directed by Miles Mander
(from his novel, Oasis
) who also starred as Sir Hugo Boycott, an extraordinarily bad husband to Madeleine (Madeleine Carroll
, a few years before she went blonde and got handcuffed to Robert Donat
in The 39 Steps
). The main characters are rather heavily drawn -- Boycott is the worst kind of rogue: leering, cruel, almost certainly syphilitic; she is a clinging, clueless doormat who inexplicably loves her husband in spite of everything.
Sir Hugo wants an heir and Madeleine hasn't produced, so he runs off to Africa to hang out with foreign rakes and loose women while she stays home and contrives to adopt the child expected by her unwed manicurist on the advice of her very bad friend, Nina (Ella Atherton
). He buys it and they reconcile, even having a child of their own a few years later. But Hugo soon gets bored and takes up with Nina (mmm-hmm) while Madeleine tortures poor David, Lord Harborough (John Loder
) a friend of friends who is hopelessly in love with her. But the marrieds muddle through, mostly because Sir Hugo is running for Parliament and needs the wife.
All the supporting characters are fabulous; they are more or less fully realized (comparatively) and realistic in their kindness and occasional meanness. Even David, the eye candy waiting in the wings (and man, is he handsome), seems like a real person. A real good looking person. In spite of his one-dimensional wretchedness, even Hugo shows surprising sweetness and affection to a crying child in Tangiers or wherever the hell he went to drink and whore, and when he plays with the child he thinks
is his son. I'm afraid I never quite felt any particular warmth toward Madeleine.
There are surprisingly few title cards in the film, the story told very effectively through inventive shots, montage, and camera movement. It was, after all, co-written for the screen by Alma Reville
(you may know her as Helen Mirren
from the recent film about Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho
), wife of the famous director and no slouch at editing, scenario writing, and directing. She -- and I have to believe it was her, or her heavy influence on Mander -- introduces so many delicious details; a workman's bicycle knocked over by a callous aristocrat, the realistic camaraderie between dinner party guests, the world's most fabulous coffee pot in a drawing room. One touch I particularly enjoyed is on the night of the election, when Madeleine puts on "Hugo's favourite dress" (it's a British film), which it most certainly is, because it's the least flattering thing she's worn all through the picture, and he's just that much of a tool.
I won't tell you what happens, because I really think you should see it if you can and I don't want to spoil anything. It's so very worth the effort to find, particularly this print, meticulously restored by the British Film Institute.
Interior Castro Theatre: My excellent vantage point.
Prix de Beaute (1930) European Meat Market
It's opening night at the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival and we got the un-dubbed version of Louise Brooks
in her last starring role in film as Lucienne, a typist turned beauty queen.
Lucienne does her typing at a French newspaper and lives with (possibly, it's not clear) her fiance, a linotype operator for the same paper who thinks beauty pageants are immoral. But uh-oh, she already entered the contest and is now a finalist for Miss France, even though she half-heartedly tries to withdraw since the boyfriend with whom she (possibly) lives and is (almost certainly) sleeping with disapproves. Things get bad when she *wins* Miss France and worse when she snags the whole enchilada and becomes Miss Europe.
The moral boyfriend follows Lucienne to wherever the Miss Europe contest is held and convinces her to give it all up and come back home, where she soon becomes bored and miserable. There are many shots of Brooks framed in the shadow of a birdcage and an excellent sequence of her reacting to the people around her and realizing how much she hates the life she lives. Eventually, Lucienne returns to the glamor of life as Miss Europe -- a film deal, a handsome if slightly unctuous playboy, and fame -- cutting out on her lover in the middle of the night. He follows her and it doesn't end well.
Louise Brooks was a fine actress, but a mighty hearty party girl. She was only 24 when she made this picture and it was to be her last feature role. Apparently, Louise would wander off set only to be found drunk in some chateau by the cops and returned to the company. Brooks never cared for Hollywood, was never a critical success at the time she was most active, and preferred to work on stage or with G.W. Pabst
in Europe, who co-wrote Prix de Beaute
and directed her in Pandora's Box
and Diary of a Lost Girl,
unarguably her best films.
Alas, at only 5' 2" she was a pretty big boozer and it was a bad time for booze.
The Cast of the Carol Burnett Show Does "Mildred Fierce"
I remember this like it was yesterday! But it was actually November 20, 1976, Season 10, Episode 9 of one of the best shows on television ever, The Carol Burnett Show
Here are some other of the show's great movie spoofs
posted by another show fan.
Don't Bother to Knock (1952) I'm pretty sure there was knocking.
Don't Bother to Knock Oh, to have been at this photo shoot.
is the story of Nell Forbes (Marilyn Monroe
), a shy and dreamy-eyed young woman who is hired as a hotel babysitter for a night on the recommendation of her uncle (Elisha Cook, Jr.
), the hotel elevator operator. The couple needing her services (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle) are guests who want someone to look after their 8-ish-year-old daughter, Bunny (Donna Corcoran, whose face you'll recognize, because it is practically the same face as her several siblings, also child actors of the '50s) while they attend a banquet in the lobby. We quickly learn that Nell has (a) never watched a kid before and (b) needs to be asked if she's "OK now" every 10 seconds by her nervous little uncle. In spite of the heavy foreshadowing, Nell manages to put Bunny to bed pretty efficiently, even with Bunny doing the usual "I'm not tired" and "read me another story" stuff.
What could go wrong?While this is going on, airline pilot Richard Widmark is being given the heave-ho by lounge singer/lip-syncher, Anne Bancroft, a very mature-looking 21 in her first movie. She's dumping Widmark because he's too cynical and she just can't see a future with a guy who doesn't have an understanding heart. He says he was just in it for the laughs anyway and why do dames always want to get married and stuff, but you know he really loves her deep down. After retiring to his room to sulk in a glass of rye, he sees Nell in the room across the courtyard through the open window. By this time, she has tried on Lurene Tuttle's negligee and earrings and is moving about the room, trying on perfume and stockings and generally veering away from the original babysitting idea. He calls the room, they sort of chat, and he sort of gets invited over. At first he thinks she's a guest, but the appearance of Bunny starts the thriller ball rolling.
I won't say exactly what happens, but there is some useful meddling by resident busybody (and oft-used Disney voice actress), Verna Felton
, and one of the main characters develops an understanding heart after all.
When I first saw this movie I hadn't had a kid yet, so all I focused on was the toolishness of Richard Widmark's character and the unlikelihood that someone who looked like Elisha Cook, Jr. could be Marilyn Monroe's uncle. I originally thought Widmark's character was so
tooly, in fact, that I actually remembered the part as being played by Sterling Hayden
, but on seeing the film again, my opinion has mellowed. I mean, he did knock. I was also surprised that Monroe's performance was both not as good as and even better than I remembered. What I didn't realize was that none of the characters were particularly well-drawn and that the director (Roy Ward Baker
) didn't really treat it like a thriller...or even a film...the end result being something far less memorable than it could have been.
But the thing that stood out the most this time around was the way the little girl's mother responded after finding her terrified daughter in the room with (spoiler alert) completely wacko Nell — and walloping the babysitter good — she comforts Bunny and says, "I know, dear. I guess we've never seen anybody like her."
That just struck me as the most sensitive, most maternal thing ever.
If there's a chance to see it in on a big screen, you should, but not if you're trying out a new sitter.
: Gloria Blondell
makes a weird appearance as an annoying bar photographer warning Anne Bancroft about Widmark: "Beware of a high forehead, my mother said."