Intertitle of the Week: of It-Girls and Intertitles

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From Dorothy Arzner’s THE WILD PARTY.

If you’re like Fiona and I, one of the symptoms is a willingness to watch anything with Clara Bow in it. Clara, who suffered an irrational fear of microphones, made relatively few talkies. THE WILD PARTY, her first, is a fascinating early attempt at sound film-making, using inter-titles (see above) for scene-setting between acts, and serving up lashings of pre-code spice, and HOOP-LA, her last, is a slightly desultory carnival melodrama enlivened by racy attitudes and a nude swimming scene.

But none of this prepared us for the hilarity of CALL HER SAVAGE…

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Seven years’ bad luck…

The movie gets off to a rough start by following two generations of Bow’s ancestors, explaining how she gets her “savage” nature — her grandfather was a murdering adulterer and her father was an Indian. Now she’s “Nasa Springer,” (great name!) a simple rich Brooklynese girl from Texas with a tendency to flip out and literally bullwhip everything in sight ~

Believe it or not, we actually stopped watching around here, convinced that the film was uninteresting, so we watched Frank Fay (Fay by name and fey by nature) ironically cast as GOD’S GIFT TO WOMEN, which deserves a lot more attention sometime, but then we returned to Clara and found that actually the movie is a demented work of anti-genius that’s well worth anybody’s time. The peculiar and slightly sinister racial attitudes, the camp singing waiters (I didn’t think it was possible for anybody to be more camp than Frank Fay and be in a movie, but WRONG AGAIN), the endless parade of improbable scandals, cat-fights, mental breakdowns and dead babies, this is like watching seven years of daytime soap compacted into 88 minutes of fast-forward debauchery. We were left giddy and google-eyed.

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As fine a display of mincing as you could hope to see.

Based on this experience, I’d say that CALL HER SAVAGE and GOD’S GIFT TO WOMEN make an ideal Fever Dream Double Feature, provided you watch one film inside the other, forming a sort of bad film sandwich. Both movies exploit the shady entertainment value of the cat-fight, with Bow tackling Thelma Todd while the Fay vehicle pits Joan Blondell against Louise Brooks.

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But only CALL HER SAVAGE utilises the less-known dogfight, with a noticably bra-less Bow wrestling a huge mutt. This kind of scene, bra-less dog wrestling, never quite caught on, I suspect.

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And then there’s the early scene where Clara elevates music criticism to the level of contact sport, a sequence apparently intended to establish her as an adorable hot-head rather than out-of-control psychopath ~

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Footnote: Clara’s horse-riding mishap seems an attempt to hark back to her glory days in silents ~

HULA.

‘It’ Plus Clara Bow: Discovering the “It” Girl

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12 Responses to “Intertitle of the Week: of It-Girls and Intertitles”

  1. Those mincing waiters in Call Her Savage are indeed somethin’ else. In writing “The Celluloid Closet” Vito Russo researched the scene and discovered that they were genuine Greenwich Village denizens of the period, specially recruited for the film.

    Idon’t have it on me but there’s a rather famous pcture taken on the set of The Wild Party of Clara sitting in Dorothy Arzner’s lap.

    Got to see Arzner’s Working Girls recently and it’s really quite something. A great example of how loose and experimental Hollywod was in the early 30’s. In the 40’s the system clamped down, and Arzner’s career came to end. A genuine shame because she was full of ideas.

  2. Christopher Says:

    Gilbert Roland as MOONGLOW!?..buahahahaha!…He really maintained his youth and physique well into the 60s and 70s..Looking at him in his spaghetti Westerns of the late 60s…theres hardely much difference

  3. Yeah, he’s surprise casting as a “half-caste”, but then, so’s Clara. But you just know they’ll end up together a) for racial reasons, and b) because he’s called Moonglow and she’s called NASA.

    I have Craig’s Wife and Christopher Strong lined up, but haven’t found a copy of Working Girls yet — I’ll prioritize it!

  4. Clara Bow had a tragic life in many ways. Her mother had schizophrenia, she was raped by her father, and was herself diagnosed with schizophreniia. Hardly any surprise, given her background.

    The picture of Clara dog-wrestling reminds me of how she once remarked that, “the more I see of men, the more I like dogs.”

  5. I think her bosses at Paramount were none too supportive, also. She had a very tough time generally. And yet, despite her suffering and her nerves, she’s the absolute champion at playing on the screen. It’s not acting, mostly, it really is play.

  6. Yes, I agree. She had seen life at its toughest and realised that the only response was play. A song for Clara:

  7. peter’s comments being acknowledged, and all of that, the “Call Her Savage” clip *does* give the impression that Bow would be fun at a party …

    The main Arzner I’d be interested in seeing is “Merrily We Go To Hell.” March + Sylvia Sidney + the scenarist for “To Be Or Not To Be” sounds quite promising. I love what I remember of “Dance, Girl, Dance.” Can’t say as much for my middle-of-night, dozy viewing of “Nana” years ago … but I remember its looking expensive and good and featuring a conspicuous Rodgers & Hart song (*always* a plus).

  8. Merrily sounds intriguing. Dance, Girl, Dance has one stand-out scene and is overall pretty interesting. I have a decomposing copy of Arzner’s Get Your Man, a silent Bow vehicle which is mildly fun, and sort of enlivened by terrifying outbursts of nitrate decomposition — invaders from Planet Decasia.

  9. Did you ever obtain a copy of DANCE, GIRL, DANCE? I would love to see it.

  10. I have a slightly scrappy VHS, but I’m sure I could download a more pristine version…

  11. Turns out that “Merrily We Go To Hell” has just been released in a DVD box called “Pre-Code Hollywood Collection: Universal Backlot Series.”

    Take a look, please, at Glenn Erickson’s comments:

    http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s2874code.html

    Erickson gives me two more reasons to want to see it, the presence of Esther Howard and Theresa Harris. He also remarks that “the vision of alcoholism presented here is more convincing than later, drippy psychological efforts like ‘The Days of Wine and Roses.”

    I happen to like the latter film, but …

  12. Oh, I gotta get that! I like all those people. Maybe write about it the same week I review Sylvia in Sabotage.

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