Monday, November 10th, 2008


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Year: 1933

Director: Gustav Machatý

Cast: Hedy Lamarr, Aribert Mog, and Zvonimir Rogoz

It seems that critics are equally divided on this movie. One side claims that Ecstasy is a silly romp, with amateurish Freudian references and completely overrated. Others rave about its wonderful sexuality taken from the female point of view. One thing for sure, the nudity and content were scandalous for the 1930’s.

When the picture starts, Eva (Hedy Lamarr) and Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz) are about to consummate their marriage on the first night of their honeymoon. Unfortunately for a vibrant young woman of 19, her older husband is impotent. Worse yet, during the rest of their holiday he’s apathetic toward her. Eva only puts up with this boorish behavior for a few days before she flees to her parents’ house out of frustration. She unburdens herself to her father and to his credit, he understands the need for a dissolution of her marital sham. Lamarr’s character utilizes the idyllic farm country as a playground to convalesce in. She rides horseback and takes in the stimulation of flourishing plant life and wild animals. Eva is also fond of swimming in the nude. On one such occasion she makes the mistake of leaving her dress on top of her mount. When the randy horse gets a whiff of a mare in heat, he shoots across the hillside in pursuit. Eva is forced to give chase in her birthday suit. When one of the nearby laborers named Adam — played by Aribert Mog — sees the runaway horse, he runs after it. Having rundown the lusty animal, Adam begins to seek the owner. Stomping through the foliage, Eva spots the young man walking her mount so she hides in the bushes. When the laborer spots the beautiful girl in the buff, the physical attraction between the two is palpable. He teases her for a moment as if he’s deciding whether or not to give back her clothing. After a time, he tosses the dress to her while she’s still behind the bushes. She leaves in mock disgust but it is clear that the laborer has made an impression.

At this point, the abandoned bourgeois groom is distressed. Whether it’s the humiliation for a man with his social standing or genuine regret motivating him, Emile calls his bride and requests a meeting. She agrees to receive the anxious gentleman at her father’s home. Whatever hope Emile had for a reconciliation is quickly vanquished when our protagonist lays into him with warranted gusto. Having detailed his many transgressions, she demands an immediate divorce. A defeated Emile sees the fruitlessness of his pleas and acquiesces to her wishes. On one stormy night, Eva is restless and on edge. She repeatedly looks out the window and it becomes apparent that the young woman is turned on. With each lightning bolt getting her worked up even more, Lamarr’s character leaps from the living room and scampers into the darkness. When she arrives at Adam’s cabin soaking wet and heaving with passion and lust, he is pleasantly surprised. The two young lovers become inseparable and it is not long before they are married and with child. What becomes of Emile? His fate seems to have been sealed once he failed to deliver the goods that first night.

I can see how some contemporary viewers might think Ecstasy is corny. Some of the phallic symbols do get a little ridiculous. But I try to assess older films in the context of their environment. Even by pre-code standards full frontal nudity and the portrayal of a female orgasm are unheard of for 1933. And this is Hedy Lamarr, people. Without a doubt she is in my top 10 Hollywood babes list. In this picture you can see the foundation for the great beauty to come in her 20’s and 30’s. Machatý does a masterful job of capturing Lamarr’s stunning visage in several memorable closeups. Though this picture has sound, the director chose to shoot it like a silent movie with very sparse dialogue. This approach works well as the images do all the necessary talking. Is Ecstasy a great film? No. But it contains some memorable moments as well as the landmark debut of a truly gifted female artist.

By James White

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Year: 1933

Director: Frank Tuttle

Cast: Genevieve Tobin, Roland Young, Ralph Forbes, Una O’Connor, Minna Gombell, Frank Atkinson, Robert Greig, and Arthur Hoyt

I read a 1933 NY Times article on Pleasure Cruise yesterday and was surprised to see this quote: “Mr. Young and Miss Tobin aroused heaps of laughter from an audience yesterday afternoon.” I thought this pre-code film was cute but one man’s hilarity from 75 years ago apparently doesn’t measure up to a contemporary audience. At least this audience of one, anyway. The basic storyline is that an engaged couple are going through a trying financial time as Andrew Poole (Young) has been ruined and is forced to sell every asset to satisfy creditors. Embarrassed by this calamity, Poole believes the only sensible thing to do is call off the wedding. Shirley (Tobin) won’t hear of it. She has a good job in a downtown London firm and Tobin’s character is willing to be the breadwinner until they get back on their feet. Reluctant to agree because of appearances, Andrew gives in when his fiancee argues convincingly that he can finish the book he’s always going on about. When we first see Mr. Poole doing housechores in an apron, this is our second indicator of a pre-code convention: a role reversal of the sexes. One of the aspects of this picture I really enjoyed was Tuttle’s creative use of the camera. Right from the opening shot I could tell that this director had formidable skills. As Pleasure Cruise begins the viewer thinks he sees the back of a naked women posing for an artist. But as the camera moves closer we realize that we’re seeing a painting instead. Psych. Still another trait of pre-code pictures is partial or even full-on nudity. One of the true competencies of Classic Hollywood directors is their gift of economy when it comes to narrative pacing. This picture clocks in at a brief 70 minutes. Tuttle employs transition shots to depict passages of time. For example, to move from the auction to the wedding to the film’s present, Tuttle focuses on the couples’ feet as they walk. The director uses this method again to shift the movie from the Pooles’ argument in the rain outside the travel agent office, forward to the cruise ship; simply by focusing on a puddle. Back to our tale. Andrew is slowly going frustrated at the thought of his wife working in an office surrounded by men. As he relates his jealousies to Judy (Minna Gombell) the househusband gazes into a photo of his lovely wife. He discusses how he imagines each co-worker to be as the picture becomes animated and we see Shirley roam the office to each of her colleagues. Of course, as her husband visualizes the men, they are all very handsome. Yet Tuttle manages to also show them as they really are: old and crusty. By the time she gets home his jealousy manifests itself into an argument that continues until they find themselves outside a travel office. Tobin’s character suggests that maybe what they need is a holiday from their matrimony. Young’s character exclaims that he’d love to go fishing and his wife agrees that it is a great idea. When she counters that she’ll embark on a pleasure cruise while he’s gone, he becomes enraged and they part ways. Mr. Poole calls in a marker he has with an old friend who sits on the cruise ship company’s board of directors. It is arranged for him to board the vessel posing as a barber. Now he can ensure his wife doesn’t engage in any shenanigans. Onboard, Shirley Poole is ogled and sweet-talked by several potential suitors. The idea of an extra-marital affair is suddenly starting to have an appeal for the newlywed. There are several comedy sequences where Mr. Poole — in various disguises — spies on his wife as she interacts with a variety of playboys. One such player named Richard Taversham (Ralph Forbes) actually makes an impression. She ends up at the party with him that night and he tries to convince her to invite him into her cabin later. Shirley doesn’t commit either way so the brash Richard leaves the table presumptuously. The picture then shifts to a bedroom scene in which an inebriated Mrs. Poole is conflicted over her dilemma. On the one hand, she’s still boiling mad with her partner and she is attracted to Richard. However, as she looks into a photograph of her husband the doubts creep in. The alcohol has an aphrodesiac-like effect and she leaves the cabin door unlocked for the handsome rake. A third no-no of pre-code insolence has been suggested: extra-marital sex is acceptable and inevitable. There is some misdirection about who actually sleeps with the lovely bride but I’ll keep that a mystery. This question also serves as the movie’s punchline. Overall, Pleasure Cruise was a decent story with excellent visuals from Tuttle. Genevieve Tobin and Roland Young are serviceable as actors and the former is easy on the eyes. I found Una O’Connor’s portrayal of Mrs. Signus to be rather unfunny. In addition, her character is an eye-rolling cinematic cliche: the gauche, unattractive older woman who hits on every gentleman in her path. Give this movie a look for the pre-code curiosities and innovative camerawork, but it doesn’t reside amongst the genre’s best.

By James White

Just wanted to let everyone know that I’m not going to be around much for the next few weeks. My brother is getting married and things have gotten stressful. Sometime toward the end of the week I will be giving Greg temporary Administrative power so he can approve all comments and posts.

-Katie Richardson