March 25, 2009
Director: King Vidor
Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Lionel Barrymore, Franchot Tone, Beulah Bondi
The most notable aspect of this Vidor Pre-Code film is the mutual fondness that emerges on the screen between Hopkins and the great Lionel Barrymore. Their tender moments really sustain the picture and become its backbone.
Louise Starr (Hopkins) is a big city woman with small country roots. She divorces her husband at a time when a girl emerging from the dissolution of a marriage was looked down upon. On a holiday, this metropolitan woman decides to re-discover her sense of self and visit the old family farm. Grandpa Storr (Barrymore) couldn’t be more thrilled to have his granddaughter back in the fold. She gets a much cooler reception from her relative Beatrice — played by Beulah Bondi — who runs the household and cares for Barrymore’s character. Quite active for a man of his years, Grandpa takes great delight in showing his granddaughter just how addictive rural life can be. When he introduces Louise to his favorite neighbor, Guy (Franchot Tone), she is instantly enamored with the intelligent farmer and surprised by his sophistication. Unfortunately, Guy is married with a young child and unavailable. Still, the two spend much time together because they find common interests. Naturally, the town is rife with gossip. Despite these ill-feelings, our lead finds that the farm has grounded her and the longer she stays, it becomes harder to leave.
The biggest source of aggravation between Beatrice and Louise is the question of inheritance. Bondi’s house frau has put all her eggs in one basket, weezling her way into what she thinks is a massive inheritance when the patriarch passes on. With Hopkins’ character in the picture, will she get screwed? The elderly former military man has no intention of dying quickly, however, and he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve.
The Stranger’s Return is not a great film. What it does have is Miriam Hopkins @ the pinnacle of her physical perfection. She is a star in the biggest sense of the word and the performer’s onscreen magnetism will leave you wanting to see as much of her work as you can.
By James White
March 22, 2009
Posted by obscureclassics under Essays
| Tags: 1930s
, angels with dirty face
, anita page
, anna christie
, baby face
, bad girl
, barbara stanwyck
, Beauty For Sale
, bed of roses
, Clark Gable
, constance bennett
, dorothy sebastian
, edward g. robinson
, florine mckinney
, frank borzage
, gold digger
, ina claire
, james cagney
, james dunn
, janet gaynor
, Jean Harlow
, joan blondell
, Joan Crawford
, kept woman
, ladies in love
, little caesar
, loretta young
, Madge Evans
, man's castle
, midnight marry
, our blushing brides
, paul muni
, Platinum Blonde
, Red-Headed Woman
, robert montgomery
, sally eilers
, scar face
, spencer tracy
, tallulah bankhead
, the easiest way
, the greeks had a word for them
, the public enemy
, Una Merkel
It’s a pretty tough time money-wise for a lot of people. Unemployment rates are rising, people are getting laid off and losing money left and right. Right now, we’re in recession. But there are a lot of people worried that we’ll soon be in a depression.
This, of course, would not be the first depression. The Great Depression in the 1930s was one of the bleakest times in history. But hey, it produced some great films. Especially some great films set during the Depression. So maybe we should take some tips from these movies on how to get through these rough times.
Tip #1: Find a rich man to keep you
See: Bed of Roses, The Easiest Way, Our Blushing Brides, Possessed
You’re down on your luck. You’re a girl living in a poor neighborhood, you either can’t find a job or you have a really crappy one. But you’re damn pretty, and with the right dress and hair, you could look damn classy.
And hey, here’s a handsome (hopefully) rich guy who likes you. Really likes you. You’re one of the lucky ones now. He like you so much he wants to set you up in a nice apartment so he doesn’t have to go to the bed part of town to see you. Of course he doesn’t want to marry you. He may already be married, or the idea of marriage just doesn’t interest him. But that’s probably a good thing. Why ruin something so simple with marriage?
Now you have a fancy apartment to yourself, an bottomless bank account, and you get to rub elbows with all of your man’s high class friends.
And hey, this is the 21st century. There are plenty of rich, powerful women, so it’s completely possible for a man to find himself a cushy situation like this.
Be careful, though. These situations don’t always end happily. Unfortunately for Constance Bennett in The Easiest Way, she lost the man she really loved when she couldn’t resist the life of luxery. And don’t go thinking this guy’s going to marry you. That idea turned out not too well for Anita Page in Our Blushing Brides.
Of course, you could get Joan Crawford-in-Possessed lucky, attract a handsome rich guy like Clark Gable, fall in love with him, and then have the good fortune of him falling in love with you.
Tip #2: Find a rich man (or woman) to marry you.
See: Red Headed Woman, Mannequin, Platinum Blond
You’re situation is probably pretty similar to the one above. However, finding a rich man to marry you might be a littler tougher than finding a rich man to keep you. Marrying a poor girl takes on some more social implications than just keeping her in a nice apartment and buying her stuff.
So you may have to resort to complete bitchery. Like Jean Harlow in Red Headed Woman. Easily one of the biggest bitches to ever hit the big screen, she did every single thing she had to do to get her rich boss to marry her. Even though he was already married. Sure, the marriage was absolutely miserable, but she had all the money she wanted.
You may get lucky, though, and find a rich guy who’s just plain infatuated with you, like Joan Crawford found Spencer Tracy in Frank Borzage’s Mannequin. Sure, she didn’t love him at first. But there’s a lesson there in itself. Love will eventually grow.
Of course, it’s entirely possible for a man to marry a wealthy woman. It just doesn’t usually take much scheming. According to Platinum Blond, heiresses like to take on poor, unsophisticated men to see if they can change them. Just for fun. So all you boys have to do is be unsophisticated and put yourself in front of some rich chicks. But, seriously, if you’ve got someone as cute as Loretta Young already in love with you, save yourself the trouble.
Tip #3: Use sex in the workplace
See: Baby Face
The last two options were good options. But of course, you’re a modern woman. Maybe you don’t want to be married or kept. Maybe you’ll only feel complete if you’re working.
Yes, these days it is much, much easier to climb the corporate ladder for women than it was in the 1930s. But it’s still not the easiest thing in the world. Especially right now, when some people are having a hard time finding a job.
So if there’s any time when you shouldn’t feel ashamed to get on your back to get up the ladder, it’s now. You should always use what god gave you. And if he happened to give you some good looks and a fair amount of sex appeal, you should use it.
Just be careful. In Baby Face, Stanwyck got into a few sticky situations doing this very thing. Try to keep the amount of men with whom you exchange sexual favors to a minimum to avoid that.
Tip #4: Crime pays…. to a point
See: Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces, Scarface
During the Depression, gangsters were almost treated as heroes in film (and even outside of it). Life was tough. The world, the country, fate, God… these things had taken everything from people. And the gangsters were the ones rebelling against that and taking it back. By any means possible. Sure, they were doing bad things. But they were getting the money they wanted. And in times like these, sometimes that seems like the most important thing.
Without fail, whether it’s Cagney in The Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces, Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, or Paul Muni in Scarface, things always go amazingly well for these guys for some time. They climb the ranks and live very comfortably.
So yeah, a life of crime is always going to be dangerous. But unlike the guys in these movies, be smart. Don’t want to much. Once you get to a certain point where you’re living comfortably, let it be. Don’t try to get any higher. And for the love of god, don’t try to take over the organization. That’s the kind of shit that gets you killed.
Tip #5: Turn to prostitution
See: Faitless, Anna Christie, Midnight Mary
Now things are seriously bad. You can’t find a job at all. And the idea of marrying or being kept by a rich man isn’t happening (maybe you just can’t find one, or maybe you’re so much in love with someone poor you can’t bring yourself to leave them). You have no choice. You must turn to prostitution.
Sure, it’s probably the least dignified thing on this list. But when you’re desperate, you’re desperate. You gotta eat. You gotta keep a roof over your head. And maybe like Tallulah Bankhead in Faithless, you have to find some way to pay for your husband’s medication. She got lucky, though. When husband Robert Montgomery found out that she was a prostitute, he was moved by her sacrifice.
Tip #6: Split a nice apartment with some pals
See: Ladies In Love, Beauty For Sale, The Greeks Had a Word For Them, Our Blushing Brides
Probably the easiest option so far. You’re single, you don’t have a lot of money. But you do have two good friends who are in the same situation. So how much easier would it be on all of you to split an apartment!
This can be done just for necessity’s sake, as it was for Joan Crawford, Anita Page, and Dorothy Sebastian in Our Blushing Brides, and Madge Evans, Una Merkel, and Florine McKinney in Beauty For Sale.
But you can also do the three way split in a fancier way. It might require a bit more money, but getting a nicer apartment in a better part of town with three friends could be a bit of a confidence booster, which is always needed in times like these. In Ladies in Love and The Greeks Had a Word For Them, three single ladies (Constance Bennett, Janet Gaynor, and Loretta Young in Ladies, Madge Evans, Joan Blondell, and Ina Claire in Greeks) split nice aparments in nice neighborhoods to make themselves look classier and like they have more money, presumable to attract wealthy men.
Tip #7: Embrace your poverty and realize that love is ultimately what matters
See: Bad Girl, Man’s Castle
Yes, times are indeed tough for you. But they’re tough for most people.
Not everyone loves the idea of trying to find a rich person to take care of them, or turning to crime, or getting on their backs. So they just accepts their circumstances. And sometimes they’re really lucky, because they might have love in their life.
Tenement life blows, obviously. But if you have a husband or wife that you love very much, and a baby on the way, like Sally Eilers and James Dunn in Bad Girl, that becomes more important than everything else, even if there are some bumps along the way.
Even worse than tenement life was life in the Hoovervilles, where families lived in little more than tiny shacks. No matter how bad a living situation might be, look on the bright side like Loretta Young in Man’s Castle does. At least she has a place to live. Add to that the fact that she’s in a (somewhat complicated, admittedly) relationship with Spencer Tracy. Life is difficult, but Borzage films the movie almost like a fairy tale. Their love is so powerful, it can make a little shack seem like a castle.
There you go. Seven tips from the classics on how to get through these tough times.
I’d love it to here any tips you guys can come up with from watching 1930s films!
By Katie Richardson
March 19, 2009
Posted by obscureclassics under Uncategorized
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Yeah. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but my email is up and working again.
March 14, 2009
Talking about how much I hate the adaptation of The Sound and the Fury the other day made me think about other Faulkner works that have made it to the screen. He’s definitely not an easy author to adapt to the screen. While there have been a number of films based on his works, he’s not a, let’s say, Jane Austen type whose writing works well on film and who has a million film adaptations of each book.
Perhaps that’s because his best ad most revered works haven’t really been adapted. At least not well. There is a terrible adaptation of The Sound and the Fury, but other than that, his most loved and recognized titles haven’t been adapted. There’s no films adaptation of Light in Augest, or Absalom, Absalom!, or The Unvanquished, or As I Lay Dying. Because so much of his work would be so difficult to adapt into an accesible film.
But there have actually been quite a few Faulkner adaptations. Let’s start with what is probably considered the best one, The Long Hot Summer, which is based on The Hamlet. It starred Hollywood supercouple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and is one of the best depictions of the south ever put out by Hollywood. It isn’t a very “faithful” adaptation in terms of storyline, but it definitely captures the Faulkner feeling spot on, and it has a stellar cast, all of whom give excellent performances. Newman, Woodward, and Lee Remick are the best of the cast, and Orson Welles is superb.
I think The Story of Temple Drake is definitely one of the best Faulkner adaptations. His novel Sanctuary was one of the most shocking things printed in the 1930s, and it remains a pretty unsettling piece of work. Even during the pre-code era it was near impossible to get all the grit and unsavoriness of the novel onto the screen, but The Story of Temple Drake does a great job, mostly focusing on constructing a brilliant character in Temple Drake. It’s definitely an essential pre-code film, with one of Miriam Hopkins’ best performances.
Perhaps lesser revered by film fans, but still an amazing movie, is Intruder in the Dust. I’ve always thought that the book had a bit of a different “feel” to it than most of Faulkner’s other work, and it is considered one of his lesser novels, but it’s still an excellent book, and it adapts into a fantastic movie. It’s up there with The Defiant Ones and No Way Out as one of the best films of the time about racism and race relations.
I’ve never read the story Turnabout, but it was adapted into one of my favorite Joan Crawford movies, Today We Live. Since I haven’t read it, I don’t know how faithful it is as an adaptation, but looking at it just as a film, it’s a really excellent WWI film about love and family and the toll that war takes.
The Tarnished Angels, based on Pylon, is directed by Douglas Sirk, and while I don’t love it, I think it’s a much better film than his more appreciated melodramas like Written on the Wind. I definitely prefer the less soapy side of Sirk (like the thriller Lured). Overall, though, I don’t think this movie captures the Faulkner feel very well, despite it being a pretty downtrodden film for the time.
Faulkner also spent a fair amount of time simply working in Hollywood, writing scripts. He had a hand in three noir classics, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Mildred Pierce.
So yes, while there aren’t really any definitive Faulkner adaptations, the major ones that exist are all very good. Here’s hoping that one day we’ll get truly brilliant and faithful adaptations to some of his major works. Think of how epic an Absalom, Absalom! movie would be. And how amazing could The Sound and the Fury be if Paul Thomas Anderson directed it?
By Katie Richardson
March 12, 2009
Posted by obscureclassics under Reviews
| Tags: 1959
, ethel waters
, francoise rosay
, jack warden
, joanne woodward
, john beal
, margaret leighton
, martin ritt
, stuart whitman
, the sound and the fury
, william faulkner
, yul brenner
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Director: Martin Ritt
Cast: Yul Brenner, Joanna Woodward, Margaret Leighton, Stuart Whitman, Ethel Waters, Jack Warden, Francoise Rosay, John Beal
William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is my all time favorite book. Many say it is unfilmable. I don’t think that’s true, but I do have a very specific vision in my head of how it should be done. But, I realize that said vision would probably be unfilmable in the 1950s, and I’d accepted the fact that any adaptation from that decade would probably deviate from the book quite a bit. But…. oh my….
Quentin Compson (Woodward) is a fatherless young woman, abandoned by her mother, left with her biological uncle Howard (Beal), her retarded uncle Ben (Warden), and her seemingly cruel adopted uncle Jason (Brenner). She feels stifled in the house under Jason’s strict care. Things become complicated when she meets a circus performer (Whitman), and when her mother, Caddy (Leighton) returns to town.
We’ll cover the film without considering it’s an adaptation of my favorite book first. Yul Brenner was Hollywood’s exotic star of the time, and Joanne Woodward was the favorite ingenue, so much of the film felt like it was simply being tailor made to highlight these two stars, who are given two particularly irritating characters to work with. In fact, all the characters in this movie are either irritating or downright unlikable, lacking anything resembling depth or humanity.
The pacing is terrible, moving along at a snail’s pace. That could also be the fault of the “nothing really happens” story. It seems like it thinks it has something profound to say about family and where we come from. But it really doesn’t.
Now, as if that wasn’t bad enough, we’ll cover it as an adaptation of the book that is closest to my heart. Talking about it as that, this movie is an abomination. The first two sections, arguably the most interesting and emotional, are completely done away with. And it’s not even that they just didn’t portray them, because that would be understandable. They would be VERY difficult to adapt well, especially in the 1950s. But with the exception of perhaps one or two nods, these layered, brilliant pieces, which are extremely important to the history of the Compson family, simply don’t exist. There is no Quentin Compson, son of Jason and Caroline, except in a vague reference that Miss Quentin was named after him and he killed himself. Who this Quentin actually was… who knows?
With those sections ignored, there is nothing leading up to this pathetic spectre that the Compson family has become. So they’re not a tragic family. Just a pathetic one. They’re just whiny, selfish people. Not the deeply troubled and intricately layered people of Faulkner’s novel.
And Caddy… what they did to Caddy was appalling. First of all, bringing her onto the “present day” canvas is a huge mistake. The whole idea of Caddy in the book is that she exists only in the memory, as some kind of spirit, a different woman in the mind of each brother. Caddy Compson might just be the most beautiful, complex, and tragic character in literature. The film rapes that idea completely. They bring her onto the canvas, and gone is the gentle yet flawed Caddy of Benjy’s memort. Gone is the fallen angel of Quentin’s memory. Gone is the bitch of Jason’s memory. In the film, she’s just a shallow, slutty drunk. This film completely trashes the beautiful image of Caddy Compson.
And because of these things, Miss Quentin Compson is an empty character. In the book, she’s a pretty horrible person, but still sympathetic, based on being abandoned by her parents, never knowing who her father was, and being hated and resented by the man who raised her. She would never be a heroine, and almost exists solely as a symbol of the fallen family. But for some reason the filmmakers felt that she’d make an awesome fiery heroine. She doesn’t. You might feel a little sympathy for her when she first meets her mother, only to discover what kind of person she is. But other than that, she’s just a flat character, a tease, and a selfish child.
Next to Caddy, Jason’s characterization in the film might be the most grievous. I adore the Jason Compson of the book. Yes, he was a son of a bitch, a completely detestable character. But it was still hard to not feel sorry for him. He was a complicated person to feel for, but he was without a doubt selfish and hatful. In the film he is, of course, turned into some kind of strong, silent hero. Raising Quentin with tough love not because he resents her, but because he loves her and wants her to be able to stand on her own two feet, unlike the rest of the family.
So there you have it. The characters, which make The Sound and the Fury such a brilliant novel, are stripped of everything that make them interesting and complex, and makes them simple, boring cliches of film heroes and heroines.
If you’ve never read The Sound and the Fury, be prepared for a sloppily made film. If you have read The Sound and the Fury, be prepared for a piece of garbage that completely rapes the greatest American novel ever written.
March 11, 2009
Posted by obscureclassics under Uncategorized
I don’t know if it’s Yahoo, or if it’s just me, but everytime I go to Yahoo and click on “sign in”, it refuses to connect. If anyone has uses Yahoo, let me know if this is happening to you as well.
Anyway, since I obviously can’t get to my email, I started a temporary page called questions and comments for anybody, that includes both readers and my writers, that has questions or needs to get in touch with me.
Also, if you have an account at Rotten Tomatoes, feel free to PM me there as well.
March 8, 2009
Director: Marion Gering
Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Clive Brook
The director takes an interesting approach to this story by setting it during a 24 hour period in Manhattan. Literally one day, from 11:00pm to 11:00pm. The camera opens the movie with an exterior shot and swings through the window into a posh Park Avenue apartment. A handful of uptight people dressed to the nines are exchanging banalities following the evening meal. All except for one couple: Jim and Fanny Towner — played by Clive Brook and Kay Francis, respecitvely. They are arguing non-stop and it becomes quite clear to the viewing audience that their marriage is an unhappy one. Tired of bickering, the couple doesn’t even go home together. Jim is still thirsty and he’s got numerous squeezes on the side. He staggers down the sidewalk until coming across a speakeasy he frequents. Brook’s character notices the blood on the snowy steps that lead to the door, but Jim shrugs it off and proceeds to take a couple of belts.
Having really tied one on, Mr. Towner decides then to visit his favorite lover: Rosie (Hopkins). She is a chanteuse @ a popular night spot not far away. When Jim arrives at the club, Rosie is in mid-song and the crowd is eating out of her hand. He gets a booth and the singer joins him for cocktails between takes. When the waiter informs the lovers that a man is waiting to see her, Hopkins’ character is irritated but she excuses herself to see who it is. Unfortunately, it’s her no good husband. He is dressed in rags and obviously not doing well for himself. As they talk and argue we understand that Rosie’s been disappointed by this bum over and over again. She refuses to let him come home with her and won’t give him any dough either. Eager to get rid of this embarassment, the singer orders the bouncers to throw him out on his ear. Tony (Regis Toomey) swears he’ll get even.
Aware that her sugar daddy has been overserved, Rosie takes Jim to her home to put him into bed. She helps him with his things and discretely puts him in another bedroom where he passes out. Not long after, Tony breaks into the house and becomes insanely jealous. He knows she’s got another man with her. They struggle all over the home until the brute heaves her onto the bed and begins choking her accidentally while cross examining at the same time. Will her lover be aroused from his stupor in time to intervene? Much of the remaining film plot is fairly lame as Mrs. Towner has an epiphany and realizes that her husband is the only man for her.
Given such a small role relative to the characters Brook and Francis get, Hopkins’ Rosie is unforgettable and she steals the show. The beautiful blonde is easily the most memorable aspect of this picture. She performs two songs exquisitely and her brassy, take-no-guff nightclub singer is one of the best characters in Pre-Code film. A decent copy of 24 Hours isn’t easy to find but if you get the chance to see it, don’t hesitate.
By James White
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