Favorite Fashion in 1930 Film


I’ve gathered together some of my favorite costumes from the films of 1930. These were originally in my upcoming What I’ll Remember post, but I realized they deserve to be properly appreciated on their own.

Top Ten By Year: 1930 posts:
Top Ten By Year: 1930 – Poll Results 
Movie Poster Highlights: 1930 
100 Images from the Films of 1930 

FAVORITE FASHION OF 1930:

Marlene-Dietrich-Morocco_LG
Marlene’s iconic tux in Morocco (designer: Travis Banton)

the-divorcee-pajama-suitEverything Norma Shearer wears in The Divorcee (designer: Adrian)

Costume-wild-Evelyn-Brent_-Slightly-Scarlet_gray-shades_001Evelyn Brent in Slightly Scarlett (haven’t seen film) (designer: Travis Banton)

Costume-wild-Madam-Satan-1Kay Johnson’s Madam Satan look (designer: Adrian)

CYfyqZvWAAA5P1G
Golf girl chic in Follow Thru (designer: Travis Banton)

stanley-smith-jeanette-loff-bridesmaids-in-king-of-jazz-1
The spectacle of the world’s largest bridal veil in
King of Jazz (designer: Herman Rosse)

Just Imagine 11This insane number from Queen LooLoo of Mars in Just Imagine (designers: Alice O’Neill, Dolly Tree)

madam satan 66Costume party realness in Madam Satan (designer: Adrian)

tumblr_nqyzuyaCuA1s3mivlo1_500

lillianMy favorite costume from Madam Satan; Lillian Roth’s sheer bedazzled lingerie coat (designer: Adrian)

3bf5a5308987161bab455c6c45b31493
Greta Garbo’s fur, velvet cape, and hat in Romance (designer: Adrian)

CZsLbYxWQAAqRs8
Jean Arthur’s nightwear (they seem to be pants on the bottom) in Street of Chance (designer: Travis Banton)

madam satan 3Kay Johnson’s draped velvet dress that conveys chic complacency and prudishness at the beginning of Madam Satan (designer: Adrian)

coat
So many exquisite coats in 1930 film!
top row: Anybody’s Woman (not sure about designer), Paid (designer: Adrian?), Hell’s Angels (designer: Howard Greer), Street of Chance (designer: Travis Banton)
bottom row: Fast and Loose (designer: Travis Banton), Monte Carlo (designer: Travis Banton), Prix de beaute (designer: Jean Patou)

CbXSGInWIAAV4Ut
A special shout-out to Robert Montgomery’s coat in Our Blushing Brides, because it’s the only piece of menswear I have here (Adrian is credited with the gowns so I’m not sure about who designed this coat) 

blushingThe fabulous and endless amount of fashion in Our Blushing Brides, complete with mid-film fashion show! (designer: Adrian)

 

 

Advertisements

Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #125-129


sleeping_lottie_enchanted_april
#125. Enchanted April (1992, Newell)

Bitter Moon was the final film in the ‘Relationships’ section of my 1992 watchlist with Enchanted April segueing into ‘Women!’. Four women, in varying degrees of desperation, seek rejuvenation away from their husbands and the rainy cobbledom of 1920’s London in an idyllic Italian castle for one month (guess which). Contemplative solitude and reflection against the tabula rasa pastoral gardens provides a backdrop for magical realism. Set-up conflicts, all involving marital strife, fade away in favor of reconciliation. I wanted to feel the hope and power of sojourn spirituality at work in Enchanted April…but it proves impossible.

Based on a novel of the same name written by Elizabeth von Arnim in 1922, its approach to marriage certainly reflects the era of the story’s inception. It dares to present marriage as this broken down union lacking in communication, respect, and understanding, only to gloss over everything for an unearned whole; a much less forgiving resolution for a film made in 1992. Sure, the magical realism suggests the potential for reset reality once everyone returns to London, but “that’s another story”. Give me that then, not this. This is like A Midsummer Night’s Dream with unhappy spouses instead of young love. No thanks.

These marriages seem to be dead ends all-around, so there’s nothing to root for besides the women finding inner peace with themselves for themselves. At first that’s the focus, and then one by one the men come clomping, or humming, back in. The women’s aim for identity, agency, and hell, even just mutually respected companionship is invalidated, and all in the name of putting all your eggs in the escape-to-the-countryside basket.

A paragraph of questions:
So what, Frederick (Jim Broadbent) now loves Rose because she throws herself at him? It was her prudishness that needed to change? Not Frederick’s philandering or inattentiveness or endless humming? Rose is just so bowled over by Frederick’s arrival that all her feelings and doubts are reconciled? Even though he didn’t even go there for her in the first place? And George (Michael Kitchen) was taken in by Rose (Miranda Richardson) and not Lady Caroline (Polly Walker), all because he’s got shitty eyesight? Even though he comments not once, but twice, on how much Rose looks like the the Madonna? Give me a break. Give me lots of breaks. In fact, just give me all the breaks.

The blossoming connection between Rose (Miranda Richardson) and George is sapped in an instant by the film and Rose, as if it had been nothing of consequence. Our clairvoyant guide into these blissful surroundings is the skittishly exhausting and intrusive Lotte (Josie Lawrence). Enchanted April feels as if it were made by Lotte, like it takes place in her deluded head or something. We wait for the other shoe to drop in her desperation but it never does. Because it turns out that for her there will be no rude awakening. Everything she says about her fellow tenants and the power of the castle turn out to be correct. It doesn’t matter that she’s inconsiderate and oversteps her bounds by trying to solve everyone’s problems.

I’ll admit that part of my dislike of Enchanted April comes from a rare break on my ‘expectations’ rule. Basically, and I say this with an asterisk to risk generalizing, it’s a big pet peeve of mine to mark against a film by saying ‘it’s not what I expected’. That puts all its supposed value onto the individual’s preconceived notions, either from marketing, reputation, or picked up assumptions. The weight of preconceived notions on a film’s value gives the advantage to said preconceived notions, not the actual content. I take issue with that. These are natural feelings to have of course; however, there are constructive ways to frame them, meaning engaging with what the content is opposed to what the content isn’t.

This rant is to say that, yes, in this case, for some reason I thought Enchanted April was going to be about female bonding surrounded by lots of pretty flowers, and not about reconciliation with husbands, so that certainly didn’t soften the blow. Nevertheless, I’m all for buying into romanticized fairy-tale hope (as in A Tale of Winter), as long as the material earns it. And Enchanted April does not earn it.

The relaxed pace interspersed with low-key moments of characters soaking in their new temporary milieu with hard-earned basking is appropriately sweeping. My favorite moment comes when a small lizard makes its way up Miranda Richardson’s hair, and so despondent in this moment she allows it. Speaking of Richardson, she is able to use her naturally cold demeanor for exacting enigmatic ends and unexpected subtle reactive strokes of comic timing.

ARE1952002W00003-10
#126. Marlene (1984, Schell)

Maximilian Schell makes a mistake trying to engage with Marlene Dietrich near end of her life, and knowing each other going back to Judgement at Nuremberg twenty years earlier doesn’t help smooth things over. In fact, nothing does. Schell works under very strict stipulations, the most obvious being her refusal to be seen on camera at age 83. So we hear her barbs with director, interviewer and friend as archival footage plays in the background, usually undermining in some way what she is saying. Dietrich is aggressively staunch, constantly dismissive of her own legend and work, or downright confrontational. Everything is ‘kitsch’ or ‘rubbish’.

We hear someone seemingly uninterested in their own legend, yet defiantly unwilling to risk tarnishing it by showing herself. Although I can’t fault one’s understandable vulnerability about being seen at age 83. But still, she attempts to preserve in her own way. She also inadvertently tries to support her legend by insisting on their being ZERO craft in her work. As she puts it, she just did as she was told. Nothing is really revealed about her if you solely hear her words. Marlene is about the discrepancy between public legend and self-representation; between sad shielding and what’s beneath. How they create a tear within a person. Dietrich wants nothing to do with this documentary, yet she takes part. Is it just because Schell is her friend? She repeatedly references her autobiography. This is someone who wants to (understandably if misguidedly) control her own narrative after the fact, even as she wants to disassociate from it.

Early on, she claims not to have seen any of her work. It’s a transparent statement from the start, and later she is proven wrong (though not thankfully called out on it). When being shown a copy of The Scarlet Empress she claims it must be a different version because the edits are wrong. She dismisses sentiment, only to be moved to tears by a sentimental song at the end.

That’s all there is to Marlene. Yes, it ends up being an anomaly of a project, in some enticing ways, but overall its few revelations build up to a wholly frustrating experience that not even Schell’s sly undercutting of words with images can erase.

It’s the Little Things: 
– According to Dietrich, women’s lib was all about “penis envy”.

weownthenight-brothers
#127. We Own the Night (2007, Gray)

It’s become clear to me at this point (with only Two Lovers left to watch), that James Gray gives Joaquin Phoenix grand character arcs that run record long distances in a short period of time. In The Yards he’s fun-loving and supportive, then cowardly and jealous to all kinds of too-far-gone mixed up. In The Immigrant he’s a charlatan to a possibly dangerous stray dog in love to sacrificial raw meat. And then there’s We Own the Night, which could also lovingly be called The Joaquin Phoenix Show. Full of dismissive defense mechanisms towards his family (getting high and feigning boredom) and underground success and love but by the end, it’s a 180; something lost and something gained. What is lost is Eva Mendes and the self-chosen club environment and (dependent) success he naturally drifted towards. What he’s gained is a position society can be proud of, and the love of his family, most importantly his brother. One love traded for another very different kind of love. It’s an incredibly bittersweet trade-off, and not just because the bridge between the two is the loss and subsequent vengeful recompense of their father.

Phoenix spends most of the film, even when he’s sticking his neck out for them, an outsider looking in on his own family, a tolerated third wheel.

Once again with James Gray; Choices, Family, New York. Gray and the cinematographers he works with have an uncommon ability to constantly and observantly capture actors; nothing seems preordained in these performances. The writer/director works with familiar stories and genre conventions while having a knack for spending all that narrative time oh-so-carefully mapping out characters and their multi-faceted relations. In this case it’s all about Bobby (Phoenix), so much so that pretty much everyone else ends up being a bit underwritten as a result. Where Bobby stands with those in his life is constantly charted. Everything flip-flops for him. What would normally be a fraught and traumatic, but ultimately uphill, battle ends up being an complex aforementioned trade-off. Conventions come through characters and their choices, as opposed to characters and their choices coming through conventions.

Well, it’s certainly safe to say that the man knows how to end a film. There is something indefinably powerful about that final image. What is it? The simplicity of it? The words being spoken out and not towards? That slight zoom or how head-on it is?

It’s the Little Things:
A black-and-white montage of New York police photos transitioning to Joaquin Phoenix in red walking towards reclining Mendes while “Heart of Glass” plays; sexiest thing in a film I’ve seen since re-watching The More the Merrier

vampire-academy-zoey-deutch-lucy-fry-sarah-hyland-600x400
#128. Vampire Academy (2014, Waters)

Every so often you run into a film that you recognize as being a scattershot botch job, seemingly beyond repair, but you still like it, a lot, despite everything. Vampire Academy is one of those films. Now that suggests all the pieces are somehow lacking, which isn’t the case. There’s a lot that works about Vampire Academy, and despite its box-office flop status and universal pans, I believe the film will slowly but surely find some kind of audience.

The main detractor is that it suffers from the kind of Adaptation Inflammation that tends to plague adaptations of world-building heavy YA films. This one even has the nerve to throw terminology as onscreen text, like a trippy test review session. The harder the  world-building efforts (also taking into account its low budget), the more everything feels inconsequential as opposed to realized. So there’s an unfortunate dwarfing effect from the get-go. As if the exposition weren’t enough, Vampire Academy makes the mistake of acting like the start of a movie franchise so are endless extraneous elements and characters that have no bearing on the story at hand, and are there to assuredly set up  future installments that will only exist in the books. So there is no shortage of dead, and undead, weight.

World-building skeletons with a side helping of complicated etymology exists in all self-serious YA franchises. But Vampire Academy blends (to inconsistent results) that skeleton with the playfully bitchy high school lampoon act its makers (Mark Waters of Mean Girls and Daniel Waters of Heathers) are known for. But instead of the latter subverting the former, they end up feeding off each other til there’s not much left.

But on second thought, I’d say there’s quite a bit left. Yes it’s a mess, but damn if it isn’t an entertaining and sardonic mess. Zoey Deutch alone is a real find, heavily recalling both Ellen Page and a young Lauren Graham, with constantly varying and left-field comic sensibility. She can be annoying and a bit much, but I found her Rose Hathaway badass and lovable, an antidote to the furrowed brows and self-sacrificing heroines of dystopian and supernatural worlds. It would be a travesty, yes a travesty, if we don’t see a lot more of her in the future. Lucy Fry as Lissa is quite memorable too, regal and fluttery; good enough to make us forgive weak screenwriting that flat-out says NO to the transition and logic of character motivation.

For all the bland-boy romance (and let’s be honest, so many female-led films suffer from Bland Boy Syndrome), the friendship between Rose and Lissa (Fry) comes first. It is never lost for a second that they have the most important bond, in sync and connected forever. They are soulmates. Lissa even gives a speech at the end where she’s all ‘I wish you all could have your own Rose Hathaway, I’m the luckiest gal in town’. And Lissa, and the film, even make room for welcome and timely commentary on slut-shaming.

All in all, I wanted to stay in this world. I even want to pick up the second book and give it a try. Mark Waters and Daniel Waters drown a bit in the fold of YA, but with the help of Zoey Deutch they are able to come up for air quite often. The results allow teenage girls to have all kinds of non-judgmental sexual yearnings in a PG-13 world, with snarky growing pains winning out over the arduous and usually meaningless weight others of the same cloth so often bore us to tears with.

passion fish
#129. Passion Fish (1992, Sayles)

Literary and laid back in ways May-Alice (Mary McDonnell) and Chantelle (Alfre Woodard) can only strive towards. John Sayles (this is admittedly the first film I’ve seen of his) attains the restfulness and ease both seek. The characters catch up to the film. They are restricted to backwoods Louisiana for different but not dissimilar reasons. Rennie (David Straitharn) and Sugar LeDoux (Vondie Curtis-Hall) recur as potential male companions, but everyone else visits once and only once. People pass through while the two remain stationary.

Fade-to-blacks are usually used as prelude to a passage of time, but Sayles consistently and overtly uses them to emphasize a lack of movement or change. That progress is at a standstill for May-Alice because of her self-absorbed obstinance. Stasis, and the gradual movement away from it, and the acceptance that erases it, is at the center of Passion Fish. From May-Alice’s attitude towards her paralysis to Chantelle’s inner demons and dependency on her job as caretaker. When Rennie takes the two out for a late-film boat sojourn it critically signals movement within stasis, an openness to their surroundings and to each other.

Mary McDonnell and Alfre Woodard give two beautifully realized performances as equally willful women with a push-pull dependency built on hesitance. The former spouts and drinks, swears and lashes out. The latter desperately bottles everything to keep control of herself, her guardedness hiding immense vulnerability. Chantelle is at once sheepish and direct. Their friendship, though both would hesitate to call it that for most of the runtime, is constantly shifting and developing, the two actresses always able to pinpoint where their characters are (even if the audience isn’t made privy) at any given moment. May-Alice comes to realize she needs Chantelle (both for support and as someone willing to stand up to her) long before Chantelle admits this, or accepts this as mutually beneficial beyond survival.

Sayles does right by the Louisiana milieu outside of some random bouts of broadness (Precious anyone?), recognizing that there was a reason May-Alice left Louisiana as soon as she was old enough, without dipping into pandering. Passion Fish could so easily smack of a been-there-done-that TV movie (or shitty movie) territory or worse, of a black character entering the scene to help stabilize a white character. And though Chantelle is introduced into May-Alice’s story, it very quickly becomes a co-lead film, where each are paid equal mind, mutually dependent, not one an appendage of the other. In fact, as great as McDonnell is, Woodard as Chantelle emerges as the character and performance that resonates more deeply. Have I mentioned how amazing she is in this? Because I’d say from all my 1992 watches and re-watches so far, it’s this lead female performance that has knocked my socks off. Interracial friendships and bonding depiction in film can also easily end up being a catalyst allowing white people to feel good about themselves (for a most egregious example, see; The Help), placement and purpose renders them props no matter how well-written or performed the individual character(s) is(are). Passion Fish sidesteps all this for a deft and carefully observed study of two fully realized women whose fates are intertwined for better and worse.

 

Top Ten by Year: 1935


About a month ago I asked followers on Tumblr to submit years in film they’d like to see me make a top ten from. The result was a somewhat addicting process where groups of ten films were semi-haphazardly gathered and posted, mostly for my own amusement/indulgence. It helps that I have a chronological list of every film I’ve seen to conveniently work off of. Then I realized that this would be the perfect project for Cinema Enthusiast! Because as much as I loved posting the top tens on Tumblr, I generally dislike posting lists without taking a relative plunge both in research and posting. Because isn’t that the point? There’s been a lot of discussion about lists within the film-going community over the years questioning their purpose, reductivism, and superficiality. All of those drawbacks are present to be sure. But I’ve been a list-maker my whole life and I view mine as a space for discussion and for personal record; there’s no playing ‘best of’ here. I see lists as a really fun way of representing personal taste as well as charting how that taste changes over time.

The rapid fire boom-boom-boom of the tumblr year posts were satisfying but ultimately brushed off. They were lists as shot-out bursts, circumventing a lot of what I get out of making lists in the first place. First off, a lot of list-making is an excuse to see more films. An opportunity to fine-tune. I don’t like posting lists on this blog without accompanying write-ups because A. that’s half the purpose and B. without them lists arguably maintain their purported problematic nature. All of this is to say that this is a new ongoing project of mine. Preferably, I hope to complete roughly a year per month or so during which I will dive into some first-time viewings, blind spots and re-watches to prep for the year at hand. I plan on concentrating on years that are particularly weak for me as my motivating factor is the excuse to, as I said before, see more films.

So that brings me to my first year; 1935. Out of all the years in the 1930’s, 1935 was my weakest number-wise. Before I started this project I had seen 13 films; now I’ve seen 25. I watched 12 new-to-me films and re-watched 7 of the original 13 I had seen. I never got around to checking out most of the international films I wanted to, so you’ll notice almost everything in this group is from Hollywood.

For each year I’ll have a list of Blind Spots; films from said year that I haven’t seen which I feel are worth mentioning. At the bottom of the post is a list of all the 1935 films I’ve seen so readers will know everything that was considered. Because yeah, there are some biggies that did not make my cut.

BLIND SPOTS: 
Toni (Renoir), An Inn in Tokyo (Yasujiro Ozu), Sylvia Scarlett (Cukor), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (Hathaway), David Copperfield (Cukor), Carnival in Flanders (Feyder), Crime and Punishment (von Sternberg), A Tale of Two Cities (Conway), Les Miserables (Boleslawski), The Million Ryo Pot (Sadao Yamanaka), Hands Across the Table (Leisen), Dangerous (Green)

936full-the-whole-town's-talking-screenshot

10. The Whole Town’s Talking (John Ford, USA)
This, not The Informer, is my 1935 John Ford film of choice. It’s an unsung slice of comedy that fuses Capra with Little Caesar. This is in no large part due to the screenplay by Robert Riskin (co-written by Jo Swerling), who also wrote a great number of Capra classics. In fact, this script was sandwiched between his work on It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town! This is a must for Edward G. Robinson connoisseurs, myself included. He plays dual roles; the solitary and prompt bank teller Jones and Public Enemy #1 Killer Mannion. He puts inspired and subtle spins on each part with standout moments on both sides. Furthering the Capra connections, this is the film that established Jean Arthur’s archetypal no-nonsense dame. She is so natural here that it feels like the folks at Colombia found her on the street, put her in front of the camera, and told her to react to her surroundings. The film suffers from some tonal dissonance when it shifts to its second half. The first half has a lighter touch where the second seems to give way to the more criminal elements of the story, which by the way becomes quite convoluted by the end. Arthur also disappears at the hour mark, and with her goes a lot of the comedy. But this was such a welcome find and it’s got a killer Edward G. Robinson drunk scene; “Goodbye, slaves!”

Annex - Cagney, James (G Men)_NRFPT_02

9. ‘G’ Men (William Keighley, USA)
‘G’ Men holds a fond place in my heart. It was one of the first films I watched on TCM as a teenager. It was probably the first classic film I watched that wasn’t largely hoisted up as a ‘canon’ work. And it was the film that made me fall for James Cagney. That boundless energy, nimble physicality, those ever-darting eyes. I immediately became smitten and fully engaged with him as a performer. There’s nothing much about ‘G’ Men that stands out as a film, as it lives and dies on Cagney’s presence, but it’s surprisingly fun, easily re-watchable and a perfect vehicle for the star. It takes him away from the hard-edged gangsters of Pre-Code crime and sticks him on the other side while wisely keeping his trademark spunk.  I can’t talk about ‘G’ Men without mentioning an all-time favorite classic actress of mine, a woman who doesn’t get her due today; Ann Dvorak. It’s a supporting part but seeing her and Cagney onscreen together feels oh-so natural and right.

brideoffrankenstein1

8. The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, USA)
Bookended with unforgettable appearances by Elsa Lanchester, first as Mary Shelley and last as the eponymous ‘Bride’, her presence locks in the near-episodic structure and progressive genre-play of The Bride of Frankenstein into place. Because ‘Bride’ is completely mental, let me make that clear. It toys with emphasizing an anything-goes feel, taking everything from the 1931 original and sprinting off with it in another direction. Ernest Thesinger’s delectable performance as Dr. Pretorious makes Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein look like a fairly well-adjusted fellow. This film takes chances. That opening scene. The combination of camp and tragedy. All that Christian imagery. It even dares to use the original as a jumping-off point for humor! ‘Bride’ still never quite comes together for me as a masterpiece the way it has for many, but I enjoy the hell out of it. It’s the individual parts, rather than the sum of said parts, that interest me most. While Thesinger is beyond entertaining as the gleefully psychotic doctor, the aligning camp performance of Una O’Connor plays too much with my wearying tolerance for shrieking meddlesome creatures. I also cannot decide whether or not Karloff gets to speak too much. It’s a loaded and welcome next-level step for the character, but sometimes it feels like an overused addition. Somehow through it all, The Bride of Frankenstein continues to ripen with age as a has-it-all horror film. I mean my God, the sheer insanity of those final ten minutes alone.

THE_DEVIL_IS_A_WOMAN-6

7. The Devil is a Woman (Josef von Sternberg, USA)
Speaking of throwing caution to the wind and going full throttle, the final collaboration between Josef von Sternbrg and Marlene Dietrich is a logical endpoint for what was a brilliant pairing of unmatched mutual self-indulgence. I saw this for the first time last year and liked it, though I found its static repetition a mite exhausting. Lionel Atwill falls for Dietrich’s Concha Perez. She fucks him over. Wash, rinse, repeat. But what I was able to have a lot more fun with, and appreciation for, this time around is the way von Sternberg/Dietrich knowingly play with said structure, pushing it to such a well-calculated extreme that it occupies its own wink-wink space amongst other films of its kind. You ask yourself ‘how can Atwill not see that she is using him, that she feels nothing for him?’ That’s precisely the point; Atwill, and the other men that get sucked into Dietrich’s path, are fully exposed as fools. Other films with scheming females contain performances that straddle ambiguity, or at least have women who convince the audience as well as the male characters. At the very least, we can usually fathom how the men get wrapped into doing anything by these screen goddesses. And Dietrich is certainly a goddess, but her performance is so knowingly transparent, her Concha so hilariously uncaring and uncommitted (her eyes are incapable of resting on anything for a second), that the film becomes an experiment in exposing the artificiality of all players involved in plots of obsession and desire.

The Devil is a Woman also has a pretty uncommon-for-its-time flashback structure where straight cuts are used to travel between past and present. There’s also lot of room for interpretation within the transparency; for me, Dietrich feels more authentically involved in the Cesar Romero character, but then there’s her decision in the final scene. And Atwill’s Don Pasqual sure does feel like the most blatant Von Sternberg surrogate of them all. There’s lots to think about. The director also gets to indulge in the kinds of celebratory chaotic carnival settings that so fascinate him, where every frame revels in the clutter and the overcrowded. Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich are one of my favorite director/actor collaborations, and this last film of theirs is a caustic and cold film, a logical collaborative conclusion of absurdity and all-in creative stakes.

tumblr_msbd6x93AR1qfrnyao1_500

6. The Good Fairy (William Wyler, USA)
Certain films carry with them a magical thrill, the thrill of long-existing but new-found discovery. I can’t quite say I felt this about all of The Good Fairy, but I certainly had this feeling more often than not.

This is a fractured fairy tale of sorts, built around the well-meaning naivete of an orphanage-bred young woman. Margaret Sullavan is ethereally soft and sensual, newly sprung but bursting with life. Her romance with Herbert Marshall doesn’t come until late in the story, and it’s one of the most wonderful sections of any film I’ve seen in ages. Both players are unconventional romancers in their way; their interaction, which starts with the sexually suggestive and impossibly enthusiastic testing of a pencil sharpener, is impossible not to get lost in. The screenplay (an adaptation of a 1930 play) by Preston Sturges ensures that laughs come in the most unexpected and jovial of places with underlying purpose laid beneath. The film-within-a-film, played for parodic laughs, doubles as an insight into the childishness of Luisa’s worldview. Its drawbacks, mainly an unreachable aloofness and Sullavan’s do-gooder sainthood, cannot stamp out the immediate connection and unchecked joy I felt during much of The Good Fairy. It’s a glorious film that uses its outlandish screwball story for spontaneous charm and refreshing energy all around.

tumblr_msronrhaPo1qfrnyao1_500

5. Peter Ibbetson (Henry Hathaway, USA) 
I normally don’t go in for metaphysical love or anything resembling those kinds of sentimental ideas on film. Or really anywhere for that matter. But Peter Ibbetson is so relentlessly ethereal, so distinct within its era in Hollywood filmmaking that it had me swooning from the first. I felt a rare level of investment in the couple in question played by Gary Cooper and Ann Harding, largely in thanks to a tear-inducing first act depicting the pair’s inseparable connection as children. This is a vastly underrated film that I implore you to see if you ever get the chance. The final act loses itself a bit but the fact that it even dares to depict two people who live out their time with each other in a mutually shared dream space is commendable. Did I mention Peter Ibbetson is also gorgeous? Heavenly shafts of light are often used to connect our characters through the magic of film.

Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera)_02

4. A Night at the Opera (Wood, USA)
The Marx Brothers at MGM was a prospect that could have potentially washed out and overwhelmed the defining anarchic sensibilities of their well-established schtick. At first glance their zippy whiplash doesn’t match up with the glossy spectacle of the studio, and there are certainly times during A Night at the Opera where those concerns are in danger of becoming realities. But the Marx Brothers stay loyal to themselves in an upscale setting, justifying A Night at the Opera as the classic it is. This was the most rewarding re-watch of the bunch for me. I first saw it a good ten years ago and was admittedly disappointed by it. Apparently I thought the Marx Brothers material was hilarious, but was troubled by the way they revolved around a plot about bland opera singers. This time around, the opera singers aren’t nearly as disruptive as I remember. I also understand enough to now know that these kinds of subplots are par for the course. That intermission-like musical set-piece outstays its welcome (I could have done without the musical number before heading into Harpo and Chico’s respective joyful solo bits) and the big-scale of the end does indeed threaten to swallow them whole. A Night at the Opera is endlessly watchable and contains some of their best bits, including a musical beds sequence that deserves to be on the same level of fame as the iconic Stateroom scene.

800__ruggles_of_red_gap_blu-ray_06_

3. Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, USA)
A beautifully wry, moving, and patriotic cross-cultural comedy that wears its gentle earnestness on its sleeve even as it pokes fun at the very thing it promotes. What surprised me about Ruggles of Red Gap is the way in which the changes within Ruggles sneak up on both him and us. It’s so subtle and so genuinely affecting almost 80 years later. It is about the realization of opportunity and potential within oneself. It all shines through a remarkable performance by Charles Laughton in his first onscreen comedic role. One of my favorite performers, he was an actor known for playing in extremes. This is a deceptively subtle performance; indeed, extreme in its very subtlety. And this in the same year he played Captain Bligh! It’s a consistently surprising bit of acting too; the mileage you can get out of interpreting and dissecting his tics are considerable. This is also an uproariously funny film. Ruggles has everything, including a divine everyone-stops-in-their-tracks reading of the Gettysburg Address and an uplifting ending that demands the use of a hankie. This is a new favorite and though it’s relatively well-known amongst film buffs, this really should be a household title, as well known as the most iconic of films from the 1930’s.

tumblr_lz539xGsgm1qzatiso1_1280

2. Mad Love (Freund, USA)
Fantastic as The Bride of Frankenstein is, this truly perverse gem is my 1935 horror of choice. There are few actors I love more than Peter Lorre (Laughton may be one of those few; yeah I’ve got a thing for the weird ones). And there are few film folk more underrated than the great cinematographer/director Karl Freund. Put the two together for an adaptation of “The Hands of Orlac” and you have not just one of my favorite horror films, but one of my favorite films period. Also notable as Peter Lorre’s Hollywood debut, Mad Love is one of the most elegantly demented films ever made, mounting its warped sadism in explicitly frank terms. We start out at the “Théâtre des Horreurs” in Paris where we quickly learn that accomplished surgeon Dr. Gogol (Lorre) never misses seeing (or an opportunity to creepily send lots of flowers) actress Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), whose nightly performance seems to consist of being violently tortured. And it just gets more nightmarish and operatic from there.

Peter Lorre is priceless as Dr. Gogol, unmatched in his level of bulgy-eyed egghead menace. His work here is unsettling, exposed, and profoundly skeevy. An early scene where he involuntarily finagles a kiss out of Drake is deeply uncomfortable, a comparably chaste scene by today’s standards that manages to feel like a much larger transgression. Freund, and fellow legend of cinematography Gregg Toland, litter this film with stylistic flourish, where every torrid emotion of Gogol’s feels almost too up-close-and-personal within its over-the-top construction.

Mad Love contains indelible images in horror cinema, most prominently that unforgettable disguise Lorre uses to mess with Colin Clive. I cannot stress enough Lorre’s disguise is one of the most frightening things you will ever see. Scariest of all is the moment when Drake, hiding in Gogol’s home, sees him bounding up the stairs in his disguise with unchecked mania and a harnessing get-up that makes his relentless cackle all the more spine-chilling. I’ve seen Mad Love on multiple occasions and that moment, that realization that Gogol has returned home with her still in the house, gets me Every. Single. Time.

39 steps

1. The 39 Steps (Hitchcock, UK)
I can never seem to settle on a favorite Hitchcock film, but there are days when I’d give that distinction to The 39 Steps, in many ways the quintessential film from the Master of Suspense. ‘Steps’ has it all; mistaken identity, dapper leading man, icy blonde, chase sequences, MacGuffin, and sexual innuendo and interplay through latent kinkiness and suggestive visuals. Perhaps what I love most about this film is how episodic it is with its precise structure. The segment with the farmer couple is a particular stand-out (a scene that is sort of a blueprint for using basic editing skills to maximum effect) . As is Donat’s impromptu speech. Or anything with Donat/Carroll. And so it goes. That apex-to-apex consistency is a rarity. Robert Donat is defiantly attractive here; flippant, amused, perfect. The dynamic between Donat and Carroll (though not one of my favorite Hitch women) may be my favorite Hitchcock romance; its remarkably sexy stuff.

It has been stated that Hitchcock films exist on the ‘borders of the possible’ and this film pushes that to its escapist limits as well as maintaining a light-heartedness. Its Scotland setting is an artificial space of pastoral fog, lots of sheep, grassy hills, and waterfalls, evoking a memorably fantastical sense of place. Starting and ending with the mysterious and fateful Mr. Memory, Hitchcock uses this adaptation to set up a world where plot is just a means to an end, an excuse for intrigue and adventure to rule the day.

Full List of 1935 Films Seen:
The 39 Steps, Alice Adams, Anna Karenina, The Black Room, Bride of Frankenstein, Captain Blood, The Devil is a Woman, ‘G’ Men, The Ghost Goes West, The Gold Diggers of 1935, The Good Fairy, The Informer, Mad Love, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mutiny on the Bounty, A Night at the Opera, Peter Ibbetson, The Raven, Roberta, Ruggles of Red Gap, She, Symphony in Black, Top Hat, Triumph of the Will, The Whole Town’s Talking 

Review: Dishonored (1931, von Sternberg)


Of the seven films that paired director Josef von Sternberg and star Marlene Dietrich, 1931’s Dishonored is perhaps the least written about. The film follows Dietrich’s X-27, an Austrian prostitute who is recruited as a spy against the Russians. She meets a Russian soldier (Victor McLaglen) with whom a mutual touch-and-go lust erupts. Where another film would depict their relationship as one of epic romance, it is just the opposite here. They have an undefinable desire towards one another that refreshingly does not trump all, yet they willingly allow it to.

The plot itself is ultimately meaningless, and it goes without saying ludicrous, as von Sternberg has other fish to fry. Von Sternberg is one of the narcissistic giants of the silver screen, so in love with his own fetishistic and thematic concerns that they tend to overshadow anything within the actual story. His collaborations with Dietrich are doubly responsible for this, as he had found a center to his imagined world that represented everything he wanted to convey on the screen. Once you get past the fact that the story is not important, Dishonored becomes a treasure trove of the director’s trademarks.

Not least of which includes showing Dietrich off as the ultimate sex symbol and a stand-in for linking the occupations of prostitution and spy as one and the same. Both require that she use her sexuality to succeed, and her character stands for the patriarchal squashing of female-owned sexuality, even when it comes complete with dignity. Those who need, admire, and lust after her are the same ones who ultimately reject her for using the skills they had previously admired. Women with these kinds of survival instincts will never be accepted. Von Sternberg is saying that there is no room for X-27’s in a contradictory and unfair society.

Not once is X-27 ever seen as a victim and she is in total control of everyone around her, including the audience, every step of the way. Despite her fate, we never feel pity because she clearly doesn’t need it and wouldn’t want it. Her inevitable death at the end is not indicative of her failure, but a matter-of-fact sign that even a force of nature like her is doomed. We learn so little about X-27 because she has deems it so. She is constantly calling the shots, even in the moments before her death when she requests to be executed in the clothes she was recruited in; the clothes she wore as a prostitute. In short, she owns every inch of herself.

Her characterization is almost non-existent, but what we know of her comes to us in a series of key recurring symbols; a piano, a black pussycat she always has with her and the bouncing dancing figurines in her apartment at the film’s start.

Pre-camped out Dietrich never fails to be spellbinding and it all comes down to being a visual showcase for both the director and its star. Camped-out Dietrich is a blast, but there is something fresh, youthful and impossibly fleshy about her that leaps off the screen in the very early 1930’s. Von Sternberg’s penchant for filming her veiled in shadow, curtains, lace and from different angles as a series of poses is, as always, in full effect. The two are really just showing off and it works; there is nothing quite like Josef von Sternberg filming Marlene Dietrich.

Also present are other stylistic adornments we expect from the deliciously flashy Austrian. The party scene, an imperceptible smorgasbord of streamers, confetti, masks, celebration and kinky flirtatiousness emerges as an obsession for him. The majority of his films feature a scene of extravagance like this that he lingers on, unwilling to move on when other directors would.

Something that stands out here is the sequence that has Dietrich posing as a peasant girl who favors cat-like meows and motions in order to seduce a Russian officer. It is at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum of how the icon is normally seen, and is surely one of the most bizarre sequences in any film of its kind. Its nuttiness makes it all the more singular and Dishonored is worth seeing for this alone.

There are times when von Sternberg is unable to form a cohesive whole that binds his decorative self-indulgence, his thematic concerns and an interest in the story he is telling. This is admittedly one of those times; the plot becomes a footnote when in this case it cannot quite afford to. Still, Dishonored has more to say than it gets credit for and is a worthy addition to their pairings. While I much prefer some of the other von Sternberg/Dietrich films, there is far too much to be gobbled up here for its unjustified dismissal.

Screening Log: June 1st-15th, 2012 – Films #166-192


All grades are ultimately arbitrary and are just there for personal posterity.

167. Senso (1954, Visconti): A


168. The Furies (1950, Mann): A-/B+


169. Nights of Cabiria (1957, Fellini): A


170. Prometheus (2012, Scott): B+/B

171. The Devil and the Deep (1932, Gering): B-/C+


172. Faithless (1932, Beaumont): B-


173. Dishonored (1931, von Sternberg): B+


174. Rain (1932, Milestone): C-


175. Dames (1934, Enright/Berkeley): B+


176. Murder at the Vanities (1934, Leisen): B-


177. Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998): B+/B


178. Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970): A


179. Claire (2001): C


180. Little Otik (2002, Svankmajer): B+


181. Come Drink with Me (1965, King Hu): B-/C+


182. Yes, Madam (1985): A-


183. She Shoots Straight (1990): B+


184. Sukeban Deka (1987): B

185. Gymkata (1985): F


186. Jack and Jill (2011,Dugan): F

187. The Beastmaster (1982): F

188. Rock n Roll Nightmare (1988): D

189. Roller Boogie (1979): D

190. Sextette (1979, Hughes): F


191. Betty Blue (1986, Beineix): B+/B


192. Infernal Affairs (2002, Lau & Mak): B+

Screening Log: March 1st-14th, 2012 – Films #43-60


All grades are completely subjective and ultimately arbitrary merely reflecting my own personal interest and engagement with each film. They are more of a record for me than anything else and not a simplified stamp.

43. Dead End (1937, Wyler): C+

44. The Smiling Lieutenant (1931, Lubitsch): A-

35. Shanghai Express (1932, von Sternberg): A-

46. Everything is Terrible! The Movie (2009): A-/B+

47. Fury (1937, Lang): B+

48. Gunga Din (1939, Stevens): A-

49. Port of Shadows (1938, Carne): B-

50. The Devil is a Woman (1935, von Sternberg): B/B-

51. Faust (1926, Murnau): A-/B+

52. Destry Rides Again (1939, Marshall): A/A-

53. The Gay Divorcee (1934, Sandrich): A/A-

54. Love Affair (1939, McCarey): B

55. Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Hawks): A/A-

56. People on Sunday (1930, Siodmak, Ulmer): A

57. You Only Live Once (1937, Lang): A

58. The Stars Look Down (1939, Reed): B

59. Rembrandt (1936, Korda): A

60. A Page of Madness (1926, Kinugasa): A

61. Pygmalion (1938, Asquith & Howard): A/A-

List: Top 30 Favorite Classic Actresses


To recap from the Classic Actors post, I’ve been doing lists like this nearly my whole life or at least as far back as I can remember. I redo my ‘Classic’ and ‘Modern’ Actors and Actresses lists every couple of years and I felt like posting my latest versions of them. They vary a lot throughout the years; I found the Actors in this case to be more difficult. While there were certainly actresses who regrettably did not make the list because there wasn’t room (Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman and Olivia De Havilland to name a few) or because there were actresses who gave one single performance I cannot get enough of but could not justify picking them over others (Anna Massey, Kathleen Byron, Sue Lyon). Like I said in the ‘Classic Actors’ post, I will not be posting reasons; simply a picture and a list of films I have seen with them. This list is a lot less varied than the previous one; it is almost entirely focused on the studio era in Hollywood.


30. Joan Fontaine
Seen in 5 Films: The Women, Gunga Din, Rebecca, Suspicion, Letter from an Unknown Woman


29. Celeste Holm
Seen in 4 films: Gentleman’s Agreement, A Letter to Three Wives (narrator), All About Eve, Three Men and a Baby


28. Tippi Hedren
Seen in 3 films: The Birds, Marnie, I Heart Huckabees


27. Jean Harlow
Seen in 8 Films: The Public Enemy, Platinum Blonde, Red-Headed Woman, Red Dust, Dinner at Eight, Bombshell, Wife vs. Secretary, Libeled Lady


26. Olga Baclanova
Seen in 4 films: The Docks of New York, The Man Who Laughs, Freaks, Downstairs


25. Lauren Bacall
Seen in 12 films: To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Key Largo, Dark Passage, How to Marry a Millionaire, Written on the Wind, Murder on the Orient Express, Misery, All I Want for Christmas, Dogville, Howl’s Moving Castle (voice), Birth

24. Judy Garland
Seen in 11 films: Love Finds Andy Hardy, The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, Ziegfeld Girl, Girl Crazy, Meet Me in St. Louis, Ziegfeld Follies, The Pirate, A Star is Born, Judgment at Nuremberg, I Could Go On Singing


23. Audrey Hepburn
Seen in 8 films: Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Children’s Hour, My Fair Lady, Wait Until Dark


22. Miriam Hopkins
Seen in 7 films: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Smiling Lieutenant, Trouble in Paradise, The Story of Temple Drake, Design for Living, The Heiress, The Children’s Hour


21. Greer Garson
Seen in 3 films: Goodbye Mr. Chips, Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest


20. Norma Shearer
Seen in 4 films: He Who Gets Slapped, The Divorcee, A Free Soul, The Women


19. Lillian Gish
Seen in 10 Films: The Musketeers of Pig Alley, The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, Way Down East, Orphans of the Storm, La Boheme, The Wind, Portrait of Jennie, The Night of the Hunter


18. Greta Garbo
Seen in 8 films: Flesh and the Devil, Anna Christie, Mata Hari, Grand Hotel, Queen Christina, Camille, Ninotchka, Two-Faced Woman


17. Joan Crawford
Seen in 10 films: The Unknown, Grand Hotel, Dancing Lady, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, The Women, Mildred Pierce, Possessed, Johnny Guitar, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, I Saw What You Did


16. Simone Simon
Seen in 4 films: La Bete Humaine, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Cat People, La Ronde


15. Shelley Winters
Seen in 10 films: A Place in the Sun, The Big Knife, The Night of the Hunter, The Diary of Anne Frank, Lolita, A Patch of Blue, Alfie, The Poseidon Adventure, The Tenant, Pete’s Dragon


14. Ginger Rogers
Seen in 9 Films: 42nd Street, The Gold Diggers of 1933, Finishing School, The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, Swing Time, Stage Door, Kitty Foyle, Tales of Manhattan


13. Joan Blondell
Seen in 8 Films: The Public Enemy, Night Nurse, Three on a Match, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, Nightmare Alley, Opening Night, Grease


12. Marilyn Monroe
Seen in 9 films: The Asphalt Jungle, All About Eve, Clash by Night, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot, Let’s Make Love, The Misfits


11. Vivian Vance
Seen in: “I Love Lucy”, 180 episodes and “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour”


10. Jeanne Moreau
Seen in 7 films: La Notte, Jules and Jim, The Fire Within, Diary of a Chambermaid, Mademoiselle, The Bride Wore Black, Ever After


9. Anna Karina
Seen in 5 films: A Woman is a Woman, Cleo from 5 to 7, Vivre se vie, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville


8. Marlene Dietrich
Seen in 10 films: The Blue Angel, Morocco, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, The Devil is a Woman, Destry Rides Again, Witness for the Prosecution, Touch of Evil, Judgment at Nuremberg


7. Katherine Hepburn
Seen in 13 films: Little Women, Mary of Scotland, Stage Door, Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Woman of the Year, Without Love, Adam’s Rib, The African Queen, Suddenly Last Summer, The Lion in Winter, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner


6. Barbara Stanwyck
Seen in 12 films: Night Nurse, Baby Face, Ladies They Talk About, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Stella Dallas, The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire, Double Indemnity,  The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, Sorry, Wrong Number, Clash by Night


5. Monica Vitti
Seen in 3 films: L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse

4. Ann Dvorak
Seen in 4 films: Scarface, Three on a Match, ‘G’ Men, Girls of the Road


3. Bette Davis
Seen in 14 films: Three on a Match, The Petrified Forest, Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Letter, The Little Foxes, Now, Voyager, Mr. Skeffington, A Stolen Life, Deception, All About Eve, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte, Return to Witch Mountain


2. Lucille Ball
Seen in 9 films, 2 TV shows: Stage Door, Five Came Back, Dance, Girl, Dance, Du Barry was a Lady, Without Love, The Dark Corner, The Long Long Trailer, “I Love Lucy”, 180 episodes, “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour”, Yours, Mine and Ours, Forever Darling


1. Louise Brooks
Seen in 7 films: The Show Off, Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl, Beggars of Life, A Girl in Every Port, Prix de Beaute, Windy Riley Goes Hollywood