Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Cabin Fever Film Festival: NANA (1934)

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2020 at 3:21 pm

No actor ever had a more auspicious beginning or bigger build-up in Hollywood than Anna Sten, sadly later referrred to as “Goldwyn’s Edsel,” i.e., a profound failure. The legendary producer Samuel Goldwyn had discovered the Russian actress in a film adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov, and an aha! moment occurred to him with her cast as his great, inspirational muse, much as the beautiful Hungarian Vilma Banky had been for him in the silent era.

He brought her to Tinseltown and, in the words of Cole Porter’s topical “Anything Goes,” “If Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction / Instruct Anna Sten in diction / Then Anna shows / Anything goes.” She was, of course, physically made over, her large and lush Slavic features cosmeticized into a reasonable Garbo/Dietrich facsimile – mostly Dietrich – in order to play her debut American role, Emile Zola’s “Nana.”

No expense was spared: Hollywood’s one prominent woman director, the lesbian Dorothy Arzner, fresh off “Christopher Strong” with Katharine Hepburn, helmed the show, and Sten was surrounded by a cast which included Lionel Atwill, Richard Bennett, Mae Clarke, Phillips Holmes, Reginald Owen, Jessie Ralpph, Muriel Kirkand. She was luxuriously lit by the great Gregg “Citizen Kane” Toland, Rodgers & Hart were hired to compose a song she sings in a cabaret moment in the heroine’s career, Richard Day did the brilliant Belle Epoque sets and, sartorially, she had the distinction of being the only star to ever wear both of Hollywood’s two pre-eminent designers Adrian AND Travis Banton. The publicity campaign was completely over-the-top, with George Hurrell employed to make endless gorgeous portraits of her – he said her face took the light better than any actress in Hollywood and you could paint entirely different identities and moods upon it.

It had an ultra-gala opening at Radio Music Hall, but after a packed first week of the curious come to see what the ballyhoo was all about, the film – and Sten – flopped.

Goldwyn, undeterred, made two more films with his discovery, “We Live Again,” another literary adaptation (Tolstoy’s “Resurrection,” directed by Rouben Mamoulian, and “The Wedding Night,” directed by King Vidor). They were equally unsuccessful; the public just wasn’t buying Anna Sten.

This was probably due to a surfeit of foreign divas, indeed led by Garbo and Dietrich, on the screen then, with too many other exotic would-be super novas promoted by the various studios: Lillian Harvey, Gwili Andre, Tala Birell, Lili Damita, Elissa Landi, Greta Nissen, et al. It was a shame, because Sten really was the real thing, surely as beautiful as Dietrich, if not the all-encompassing Garbo, and perhaps even a better actress than both. None of her films are a disgrace – instead, it’s an indictment on public taste at the time that -even surrounded by Hollywood’s finest talent -this special, radiant and deeply moving and real performer could not catch a deserving break. Despite its heavily bowdlerized script (coming, too, as it did, in the first year of the censorious Hays Code, unfortunately), and some indifferent acting (zero chemistry between Sten and the always synthetic if Apollo-like Holmes), Nana remains one of the most visually beautiful black and white films ever made.

watch it here:

You Don’t Nomi

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2020 at 5:27 am
Screenshot_2020-06-13 you don't nomi - Google Search(1)This documentary about the reclamation of SHOWGIRLS, that ultimate guilty pleasure carries a certain fun if morbid cachet. It would appear to be the obsession of a lot of white male film critics whose voices predominate the soundtrack here weighing in with theories about its singular fabulous/horrendous affect that range from plausible – one seeing it as the third in a seminal trilogy of over-the-top showbiz and what it can do to a girl’s spirit opuses, joining VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and MOMMIE DEAREST – to far-fetched (like a whole megillah of know-it-all psychology pertaining to camera angles proffered by another dweeb).
It focuses heavily on the notorious film’s star, Elizabeth Berkeley, how she was sort of a pawn in her big screen debut, taking her role with a deadly earnest seriousness which rather contributes to the clueless fun of this appalling farrago. She did everything her lecherous auteurs, Paul Verhoeven , director, and Joe Eszterhaus, writer, instructed, and was devastated by the result and its negative reception. It’s nice to note that she has recovered sufficiently to be good sport enough that we see her good-humoredly introduce it at a packed Los Angeles screening, not long ago.
Gina Gershon, who, to me is really what makes the film any kind of watchable diversion, weighs in briefly and she, it seems was in on the joke from the beginning. Her villainous Crystal, a jaded, threatened Margo Channing to Berkeley’s ambitious Eve, is played with lip-curling gusto and laser-directed commitment to a character that is the last descendant of that honorable cliched tradition, the star who gets fucked off so the hopeful can go on in ehr place, stemming back to 42 STREET and, indeed Gershon is like Bebe Daniels with boobs.
The film could have been more fun had its creators focused less on critical opinion and more on the actual making of SHOWGIRLS. I would have much preferred to hear interviews with the costume and production designer choreographer, hell even bit players, than all these snarky, condescending freelancers, one of whom attempts to compare Elizabeth Berkeley’s performance to that of Maria Montez in the camp necessity COBRA WOMAN, wrongly describing Montez once the queen of the Universal lot, as a mere contract player in almost B-movies. Or another cargo shorts-wearing SHOWGIRLS queen, waxing eloquent about the various meanings of the name itself of Nomi – “know me,” or a more egocentric take “No, ME,’ etc., etc.
It would seem that everyone has their own personal relationship with this God-awful but inescapable movie, and I will always be grateful to it for affording me one of the most fun Manhattan nights ever.
When the Blue ray edition of it came out, I was invited to a special screening of it in Chelsea, followed by an after-party at “gentleman’s club,” Scores. Me and about 20 other journos were all seated in a VIP lounge and soon thereafter, the girls came in, gorgeous each and every one of them. After a bit, this one, a stunning Latina said to me, “Can I ask you a personal question, are you gay?”
“Yup,” I responded, “and so is every guy here.”
“Whew, I thought I was losing it or something. No one is tipping!”
And that cleared up, we proceeded to have a great time just chilling, as she described her eternal gratitude to the gay community for improving her love life. Evidently some homo pal of hers had clued her into rimming and “Now my boyfriend never strays. Hell, he doesn’t want to leave the house. Did you know there are [some figure] nerve endings in the anus, alone?”
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In Uncategorized on May 29, 2020 at 4:13 pm

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Two movie Southern belles, two actresses up for the role of Scarlett O’Hara but too big to screen test, and one major link between them: William Wyler who cadged his ex wife, Norfolk, VA native Margaret Sullavan’s scene in King Vidor’s little-seen for reasons that are clear when you do see it, So Red the Rose (1935), for his lover Bette Davis, of Lowell MA, three years later in JEZEBEL. If JEZEBEL bore too many similarities to GONE WITH THE WND for David O. Selznick, it also had things in common with SO RED THE ROSE. A big white ball gown was an important plot point in both films as was the way both actresses, in Travis Banton and Orry-Kelly respectively, chose to sink to the floor while wearing it, each doing that during one of their most dramatic scenes. At the time Sullavan and Vidor made So Red the Rose, she was married to William Wyler, briefly and stormily, so I can easily see how that director  might have borrowed that floor work routine for Davis.
It’s a nicely pictorial moment for Sullavan, accompanied by the same kind of haunting voice-overs from the past, which Vivien Leigh would hear at the finale of GONE WITH THE WIND.  But in JEZEBEL, that same sinking gesture, in the context of the film, is absolutely breathtaking -one of Davis’ two or three most awe-inspiring filmed moments. The very audacity of such a histrionic choice is matched by the actress’ total commitment and focus on the task at hand:  her character, wayward coquette Julie Marsden’s need to display beyond the  shadow of a doubt how completely humbled she is before her erstwhile fiance, in an attempt to win him back. What is the beautiful surprise here is not so much that bold move — Davis was already known by 1938 for forever eccentrically  flinging her chassis around movie sets for dramatic effect,ever since her breakthough as the wildly unbridled, sadistic Mildred in OF HUMAN BONDAGE four years earlier – as the heart-breaking, contrite delicacy she brings to the moment, along with her trademark intensity. It took a martinet, who commanded total obedience on his set, with impeccable instincts like Wyler, to pull that rarest – for her – qualities out of her, something few others were  strong enough to do besides him, Edmund Goulding and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Wyler would go on to do two more films with Davis, the ever-wondrous THE LETTER, one of the true triumphs of the studio system, and THE LITTLE FOXES which could have surpassed all of his collaborations with her, were she simply not in it. She had already been feeling her Queen of Hollywood oats in THE LETTER when she idiotically refused to say that great final line of Somerset Maugham’s “With all my heart, I still love the man I killed,” and fought tooth and nail with Wyler over that. Her reasoning was that no normal woman could ever look her husband in the face and say that, not realizing somehow, through sheer hubris, that a. it’s one of the great lines in all drama, the absolute crux and climax of the whole play and all subsequent filmizations, and b. her Leslie Crosbie, who in a fit of jealous, racist pique, murders her clandestine lover because he has left her for a Malay woman, and coldly manipulates everyone around her to believe in her innocence,  is obviously no ordinary female.
And wouldn’t you know that when she was given her American Film Institute lifelong honor in 1977, she announced that she STILL thought she was right, telling Wyler, seated in the audience, that she was willing to go right back to Warners and reshoot the damn thing.
THE LITTLE FOXES would mark the end of not only her dalliance with Wyler, whom she had dreamed of marrying and moaned about in her later years when he wed – and stayed wed to – starlet Margaret Tallichet, but also their professional teaming. This time, their arduous fighting over her interpretation of Regina Giddens put paid to all that and, unfortunately Davis won that time, resulting in an impenetrably arid and rigidly stylized performance which she willed to be as different from Tallulah Bankhead, the originator of the role on Broadway, as she could muster.  The never-relaxed Davis, whose uptightness would become her predictable dramatic trademark,  excised all of the convincing sensuality, irresistible yet calculated  flirtatiousness and rich humor her stage rival undoubtedly brought to it, and did, by all contemporary accounts. Even that other conniving role, Mildred in Of Human Bondage, which she painted with such large, even over-the-top melodramatic strokes, had some character arc and complexity, transitioning from common, none-too-bright but strangely appealing little  Cockney  waitress to full out, terrifying  gorgon. What a shame that, seven years later,  her egotistic narcissism  made her director-proof and tasteless enough to even ignore the best in the  business, resulting in a monotonous performance fueled by a forbidding villainy from the start, which announced itself like the big stuffed birds on her period hats. .
Incidentally on THE LITTLE FOXES, the actress triumvirate of Bankhead, Davis and Miriam Hopkins, originator of the 1934 stage version which had first been offered to Bankhead, of JEZEBEL, rather continued here, as early signs on the set that Wyler and Davis didn’t see eye to eye, had Producer Sam Goldwyn and no doubt, Wyler, too,  imagining their former favorite actress, Miriam Hopkins, as Regina, should Davis, on expensive loan-out from Warners, decide to quit the the project.
Davis’ 1977 speech at the AFI award ceremony, honoring her, in which she discusses Wyler.
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Savannah’s pride, nd yet another Scarlett O’Hara contender, Miriam Hopkins, dressed by Donald Oenslager, photographed by Van Dam in 1933. After Tallulah Bankhead turned down the role in the Owen Davis play, Hopkins opened it on Broadway in December 1933, where it played for 32 performances, directed by Guthrie McClintic. It was part and parcel of the lifelong enmity between her and Bette Davis, which had probably started in Rochester, summer stock, being directed by a young George Cukor, when Hopkins was leading lady and Davis the ingenue of the company. It was said that Hopkins took delight in needling Davis by appearing on the first day’s shoot of THE OLD MAID (1939) in a replica of Davis’ JEZEBEL ballgown. But her naughtiness was not unwarranted, as the rapacious Davis had had an affair a year or so previously with Hopkins’ then-husband, director Anatole Litvak, which must have been the true burning start to their mutual hatred.

Screenshot_2020-05-27 So Red the Rose (1935) Margaret Sullavan, Walter Connolly, Randolph Scott



Cabin Fever Film Festival: BED OF ROSES (1933)

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2020 at 8:04 pm


“A couple of ump-chays!”
                 – Minnie Brown
I am dedicating today’s Cabin Fever Film Festival pick – ‘Bed of Roses’ (1933) to Andy Halliday, who loves old movies as I do and just lost his beloved dog, Pickles. I hope it cheers him – and, indeed, all of us – up, for no matter how many times I have seen it – the first WAY back in the 1970s, in a private screening room at MOMA when this never-mentioned but true movie classic was a complete unknown quantity, causing me to rave about it for years before it was finally shown on TNT – it never fails to delight me. The beautifully economical (and beautifully dirty) gem of a screenplay is by the striking Wanda Tuchok, who wrote many of Hollywood’s most entertaining films and was one of its very few women directors. The brilliant Gregory LaCava, co-writer and director, was one of the greatest handlers of comedy and actors, who uncannily always elicited their real personalities and deepest talent, and combined the two in roles, both tailor-made – by the wit of his scripted lines and on-set improvisation – and definitive for them. We’re talking Carole Lombard, et al., in My Man Godfrey, Ginger Rogers in Primrose Path, Claudette Colbert in She Married Her Boss and Private Worlds, Irene Dunne in Unfinished Business, Ann Harding n Gallant Lady, and Stage fucking Door, here. That last film, like so many others by LaCava who was a GREAT women’s director, gave actresses like Hepburn, Rogers, Lucille Ball and Eve Arden roles which forever defined them – whether they were the stars or supporting them in a scene or two – and which they’d actually be playing for the rest of their careers.
Constance Bennett, at the height of her beauty (EVERYONE wanted to look like her then – she was the slimmest – starting with Bette), her unsurpassed chic (whether with a line of dialogue or entrance-making gown) and glittering charisma, is, hilariously, both hard-boiled and soignee, playing just about the slickest gold digger – read whore – who ever dug. Joel McCrea, as a New Orleans barge captain, contributes the hunk factor (and HOW) in such a way as to make you actually see how Bennett might consider giving up the gold.
And then there’s Minnie (nee Minerva) Brown, Bennett’s erstwhile hardcore prison cellmate. She and Bennett bond when she exchanges poontang for a ride to the harbor from a handy trucker, and together, they do what JLO and her gang basically did in HUSTLERS to all those suckers. If you only know Pert Kelton as the adorable Irish pigeon of a mother from “The Music Man” or Jackie Gleason’s first season of THE HONEYMOONER, brace yourself for one of the funniest, most lovable characters you will ever meet. Simply put, with a snappy nasal delivery of lines like, when told by prison matron Jane Darwell upon her release, “Minnie Brown, you’re an impulsive girl,” replies, “I’m tellin’ ya Mrs. Webster, I ain’t got an impulse left,” she’s the tartest tart who ever walked the silver screen.
This movie is really like a box of bon-bons, utterly delicious, and – at a smashingly brisk 67 minutes – gone before you know it. One of Pre-Code films’ greatest assets was the fact that they never belabored anything, something all these filmmakers today who want to clock in at 2.5 hours would do well to heed.


watch it here:

Cabin Fever Film Festival: ESCAPE (1940)

In Uncategorized on April 18, 2020 at 3:10 am
We watched a perfect hunker down oldie last night: Mervyn Leroy’s ‘Escape’ (1940), the same year this underrated, journeyman Hollywood director did the beautiful Vivien Leigh ‘Waterloo Bridge.’
This was also the first film I ever saw of my favorite movie star, Norma Shearer, when I was a freshman at USC in Los Angeles, one afternoon on TV, KTLA 5. I was more than a little trepidatious, for I had been obsessed with photos of her in movie books, largely purchase for a song through the Nostalgia Book Club, during the 1930s-mad 1970s, as well as Daniel Blum’s Pictorial History of the talkies and another historical survey written by DeWitt Bodeen.  After that, I became aware of sellers in LA and NY who sold movie stills and through them – for nothing, really, like $2.50 a pop even – I acquired a spate of original photos of her, with that face that intrigued me more than anyone else. The kind, gay men who ran these stores – Mark Ricci of NY’s MemoryShop, Kenneth G. Lawrence in LA, et al. – must have taken pity on this crazy 12-year-old in Hawaii with his weekly money orders requesting original Norma stills, and completely sight unseen, would select the perfect doubleweight 11×14 of, say,  her posing with Adrian in his MGM salon, and in years of collecting, really on spec  when i think about it now, I was never disappointed by what would arrive in our mailbox, which was at the bottom of a hilly driveway to our house on the back slopes of Diamond Head, with me making the walk to it in the always mercilessly beating sun. When I’d trudged back up to the house, inside, my eyes would be temporarily dazzled by sunspots as I’d tear open the package, and vision would return as I’d find myself gazing, awestruck, at, say, a specially produced MGM 16×20 double-weight portrait of her in her Marie Antoinette wedding gown, striking one of those ridiculously campy but ever so  ridiculously right poses, I came to refer as ‘typical Norma.’
John Kobal once wrote that where other stars had eyes, Norma had a profile. And her eyes were not only admittedly small, one of them was lazy, causing Cecil Beaton, observing her as a bridesmaid at the wedding of Bessie Love he attended in 1930, to write that she crept to the altar, looking chiseled from marble, and intriguingly blind. Her lips were thin, which she overlipsticked to an illusion of perfection, her face surmounted by a luxurious wealth of really beautiful hair. All of this, that oversized big head shared by many of the era’s greatest stars – Crawford, Swanson, Colbert – was surmounted on an uncannily thin, swanlike neck which Beaton, again, said almost looked too stalk-like to support all that weight. She was a mere five feet but, despite thick legs, her body was so perfectly proportioned – with fabulous shoulders – and her basic elan so formidable that she was able to carry off Adrian’s most elaborate and outrageous confections.
The portraits of her by Clarence Bull and, especially Hurrell, sensually lit to kill, made her an icon of idealized beauty, and, the visual Marie Antoinette. I devoured every book about her I could, scanned the nascent movie docs that would pop up on TV, like ‘Dear Mr. Gable” for sightings of her. But until that afternoon in front of the TV in L.A., i had never even heard the voice of the diva on which I had spent every penny of ready cash and so many hours of research.
It took forever for her to make her entrance in ESCAPE, and it’s really no biggie. She was just sitting in a wintery park, suddenly emitting that voice, which I love now, but then struck me as strangely secco and more than a little affected. The film was definitely not one of her over-the-top glam vehicles, a plot-heavy anti-Nazi propaganda effort, and she was subdued in every way, in it, from performance to the soberly elegant, dignified wardrobe (no trademark Norma’s Nightgown here, which was what Adrian called the bias-cut white satin sheaths she’d demand for every modern dress movie she made). On the whole, it was really kind of an unsatisfying non-NORMA experience, really, to me then and I know I’d have to see more to judge whether my obsessive diva-pick had been the right one (instead of Colbert or Katharine Hepburn).
It’s funny how time passes, and your taste develops, because now, having seen her entire, quite marvelous oeuvre and still mesmerized by her look and style, more than any other movie star, she remains my favorite one (to clarify: Vivien Leigh is my favorite movie ACTRESS). And you know what? ESCAPE just may be my favorite of her films. The very subdued quality I found pallid originally, seems quite beautiful and resonant underacting to me today, her dignified look is classic – no one wore a coronet braid or chignon than this pint-sized Grecian goddess from Montreal -utterly timeless and incredibly flattering (and it includes some personally owned Valentina gowns snuck in among the Adrians). And her final scene, which was actually shot by George Cukor (logically enough) not LeRoy, is absolutely electrifying, with a power only matched in her career by her bravura one-take reading of the potion monologue in ROMEO & JULIET.
watch it here

Cabin Fever Film Festival: ARIA (1987)

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2020 at 10:28 am


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A fascinating omnibus movie comprised of different directors’ visualizations of famous opera arias, with quite a high batting average. Perfect cosied-up viewing for opera freaks, and also a good introduction for the novice to the great daunting genre, in itself.

My favorite segment, when it opened and I – a very green new critic – reviewed it for Film Journal International, was Franc Roddam’s ‘Tristan and Isolde.’

watch here:  



Happy birthday Irene Castle!

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2020 at 2:29 am

Besides being an international superstar at the beginning of the 20th century, renowned  for her dancing talent, paired with husband Vernon Castle, stage successes and silent films, she was also a staunch, pioneering advocate of animal rights, as you can see here:


Cabin Fever Film Festival: TORCH SINGER (1933)

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2020 at 10:22 am
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in honor of great songwriter Leo Robin’s birthday, I am glad to be throwing another rare Claudette Colbert movie – one of her best – TORCH SINGER (1933) at you this morning. Her profession is obvious from the title and Robin wrote the ditty ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love,’ for La Colbert, with which she achieves preCode success in the clubs, in glittery Travis Banton gowns.
watch it here:

Cabin Fever Film Festival: “THE FURIES” (1950)

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2020 at 4:14 am

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Happy birthday Walter Huston! I have written at length elsewhere about his greatest screen performance in a great film, William Wyler’s triumphant version of Sinclair Lewis’ DODSWORTH (1936), but, really, he could play just about anything, and I wish the big, beautiful virtual shrine I am erecting in his honor  had a c-note for every time someone calls Spencer Tracy the greatest American screen actor, because Huston was infinitely superior, and utterly deserving of the finest carved marble, porphyry and gold leaf detailing. He was sublime in another Sinclair Lewis adaptation, John Cromwell’s ANN VICKERS and, of course, his Oscar-winning old codger in THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. My other favorite western he made is the jaw-dropping THE FURIES, directed by Anthony Mann and featuring, at its center, a deeply Freudian relationship between him and his dangerous, totally obsessive daughter Barbara Stanwyck. Psychologically dark elements were the rage in westerns of the late 1940s, as witness this, DUEL IN THE SUN, RED RIVER, BLOOD ON THE MOON, and others, culminating in the ever-influential, gnarly magnificence of John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS in 1956. The spectacular cast of THE FURIES includes Judith Anderson as the interloper in this fevered, venal welter of Daddy Issues, Gilbert Roland, a ferocious Blanche Yurka as his pistol-packin’ mama , Wallace Ford, Albert Dekker, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Gomez, Movita, John Bromfield, and the always yawn-inducing Wendell Corey. So, saddle up, come ride the range of the Furies and prepare to be astonished by life’s overheated sexy viciousness among this cowpoke landed gentry.

watch it here:

Cabin Fever Film Festival: “The Revolt of Mamie Stover” (1958)

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2020 at 8:25 pm


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This is one of two favorite Jane Russell films – the other being “His Kind of Woman,” the perfect mach-up for her and the equally brawny, large-chested, sleepy-eyed and sultry Robert Mitchum.

Besides being about a favorite movie subject – working girls, it was filmed on location in Hawaii at a time I can still recall, when I was just making my hello to the world, growing up a child in Waikiki when the hotels were fewer and half of it was the seamy, “dangerous” The Jungle, comprised of dingy old wooden houses containing seedy sunbaked tourists who never left, hippies and God-knows-what-all worse – it always seemed to be a dusky twilight there, no matter what hour of the day. And I adore seeing all the old Kodachrome-vivid locations, like the Moana Hotel lanai bar, country club golf courses,  genteel Tantalus kamaaina homes and bustling, pungent downtown Honolulu.

Tough, misunderstood and thwarted Jane’s leading man this go-round was Richard Egan, of the flame-throwing nostrils, whose basic presence was interchangeable with Jack Palance and Jeff Chandler at the time,  and her eye-on-the-dollar boss is gloriously played by a platinum blonde probable Sapphic Agnes Moorehead, who, when her disgruntled twerp of a bouncer gets fired, tries to come for her with “You’re nothing but an ugly old -” but is cut off by her hissing “DON’T SAY IT!”


watch here: