Archive for August, 2014

The Sunday Intertitle: I’m Your Secretary

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on August 31, 2014 by dcairns

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THE SOCIAL SECRETARY, from the husband-and-wife team of John Emerson and Anita Loos. Emerson is remembered almost solely for being Mr. Loos, which isn’t quite fair but is nearly fair. As director, he does a drunke scene wobblycam shot here that’s pretty damn inventive for 1916. But it’s his sole flourish.

You can’t quite make a feminist hero out of Anita. Because I say so. While the fact that she had a glittering career and was such a sharp observer of the Hollywood scene makes her a poster girl for the cause, what she wrote is informed by all sorts of prejudices of the day — she’s not trying to strike a blow for the girls, just trying to amuse herself and her audience.

In THE SOCIAL SECRETARY, Norma Talmadge can’t keep a job because her bosses are always flirting with her. Cue shots of dowdy secretaries at the secretarial rooming house she stays at, complaining that they’ve never had any problems. Meanwhile, a rich society dame is complaining her secretaries always leave to get married. Her ne’er-do-well son suggests advertising for one with the proviso “Must be extremely unattractive to men.” Norma sees this ad and sees in it the answer to her problem. Donning glasses and putting her hair in a bun and assuming a sniffy expression, she snaps up the position in a jiffy, even though none of this disguise conceals the fact that her figure is… well, “unattractive” wouldn’t be the first word I’d think of.

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This being 1916, on her days off, Norma throws off her frumpy dress to reveal, beneath it, another frumpy dress.

Should have been a nice romcom but is more straight drama. Most welcome surprise is a sleazy journalist, played by —

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Erich Von Stroheim. Trading monocle for pince-nez. Playing it for laughs, which consists of a sour expression to match Norma’s when she’s in frumpface.

Intertitles keep harping on about what a scavenger, what a vulture he is, kind of unnecessary when Loos has named him Mr. Buzzard. Intertitles generally a bit lacking in wit. “Was Anita on strike?” asked Fiona after one which read, simply, “Midnight.” “It’s no MATRIMANIAC,” I agreed. “Nothing is.”

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes -and- But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady

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One of those days…

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , on August 30, 2014 by dcairns

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…when posting just feels like keeping the blog going rather than having anything to say. So why say anything? Here is a photo of David Hemmings as a tiny bee.

Interactive bit: use the “Search” function to the right on the main page (scroll down) to look up your favourite movie, person or thing, and read an old post about it. Then leave a comment. I like it when old posts come back to life. Further down is a “Recent Comments” bit where you can see if any other old posts have attracted comments, and join in. Blog archaeology! “Let’s revisit the scenes of our youth,” as Louis Jourdan is always saying.

Wrath of Kwan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2014 by dcairns

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THE WILD AFFAIR is based on a novel by William Sansom — he wrote some good spook stories collected in some of the paperback anthologies I own — and is a pre-Swinging London sex comedy starring Nancy Kwan. Interestingly, Miss Kwan’s parents are played by a couple of white folks, including the Personality Kid herself, Bessie Love (by 1963 a British resident, accounting for her rather psychotronic credits) with no explanation for her racial difference, which is kind of nice. Of course, Kwan was a bit of a catch at that time. The only thing that would have been even nicer would be if they had found a couple of Anglo-Chinese actors — I’m certain they did exist.

Coming right before director John Krish made the micro-budget misogynist sci-fi UNEARTHLY STRANGER, this movie has gratifyingly more complex and less icky sexual politics, though we’re not quite out of the danger zone. Kwan, as Marjory,  is leaving her secretarial job at a perfume company to marry, but her alter-ego in the mirror, Sandra, thinks she should lose her virginity first, and the office Christmas party seems an ideal opportunity.

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The scenario seems to pose questions about whether monogamy and chastity are important for the modern young woman, but the movie slants things towards a conservative answer by making Marjory engaged, so that she’d be cheating, and by surrounding her with male clowns, so that the mere idea of sex is kind of icky. Jimmy Logan, the comedy Scotsman, is about the most seductive fellow on offer (he does downplay his trademark gurning but he’s hardly Sean Connery), Victor Spinetti is just impossible, and Terry-Thomas as Kwan’s lecherous boss is quite unappealing when he’s trying to worm his fingertips under her Mary Quant collar. The whole British sex comedy genre was based around desperate, craven, sex-starved men not getting any, an amusing conceit which started to disintegrate with the permissive age, when the possibility of actual screen intercourse rose into view.

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The film has several interesting women characters (including Kwan’s Miss Hyde in the mirror), but they do exist to drive home the lesson — the lonely spinster, the jealous, bitter mistress. And by making sex a practical impossibility, the movie unwisely creates for itself the problem George Axelrod diagnosed in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH: “The play was about a married man who cheats and feels guilty about it, whereas the film was about a married man who doesn’t cheat and feels guilty about it, so the film became rather trivial.” At the end of THE WILD AFFAIR — which is pretty entertaining  while it’s on — the main character has contemplated pre-marital sex and then decided against it — the wrong message for its era, and a heart-breaking waste of its adorable, sexy, smart and stylish star.