Archive for Constance Bennett

For the woman, the kiss! For the man, the sword!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2017 by dcairns

THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI is a very odd affair. It’s a Gregory La Cava pre-code, or thereabouts (1934, so on the cusp). The opening titles give us the sense it’s going to be a rip-roaring historical melodrama, but it’s much stranger than that — it’s a broad farce whose main jokes are about torture, murder and mutilation or the threat thereof. It stars two actors who worked well for La Cava in more conducive material, arch-ditherer Frank Morgan (THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH) and Constance Bennett (BED OF ROSES) plus a third, Fredric March, who one doesn’t associate with this sort of material at all. Wait, WHAT sort of material? The murder, torture and mutilation farce genre?

It’s a Fox picture, under Zanuck, and it makes sense to consider it as a similar kind of thing to that indefensible, stomach-turning “romp” THE BOWERY, only projected further back into the past. Portraying terrible historical events “light-heartedly” — with no moral attitude whatsoever, no matter how ghastly things get. As when Morgan, wooing artist’s model Fay Wray, tells her not to worry about the servants overhearing as he’s had them all deafened so he can enjoy privacy and service at the same time.

La Cava certainly had a dark sense of humour and willingness to disquieten his audience — the horrible ending of THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH proves that (Lee Tracy slowly makes a fist at a terrified Lupe Velez as the Wedding March plays us out). But Zanuck may be more relevant here, his output at Warners having shown a similarly carnivalesque attitude to social horrors. We can attribute the rambunctious tone of THE BOWERY to director Raoul Walsh (“Walsh’s idea of light comedy is to burn down a whorehouse”) but Zanuck oversaw that one too (and Fay Wray was in both, come to think of it).

Jessie Ralph (DOUBLE WEDDING) plays Wray’s mother, mocked for having whiskers. Louis “the walking fontanelle” Calhern looks suave and saturnine in whiskers of his own. The only sense of the Code coming into effect, amid all the talk of men having hot eggs placed in their armpits, is that nobody ever actually gets laid, not even during the darkened lull betwixt fade-out and fade-in: March and Morgan both chase Wray, Bennett chases March, nobody is sympathetic and there’s no reason to care. But Morgan gets laughs just by breaking off his sentences, and it’s amusing to see Fay play dumb (and brunette!).

Also: ugly at heart, it’s bee-yoo-tee-ful on the surface.

The Birds and the Beef

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2017 by dcairns

Another “song” from KISS AND MAKE-UP. Why am I so good to you?

Edward Everett Horton was not particularly known for his singing, though his number in THE GAY DIVORCEE, paired with Betty Grable of all people, is oddly pleasing. Here, his vocal weakness is made exponentially greater by Helen Mack, who matches him bum note for bum note.

What a hot mess of a film. I’ve been reading James Harvey’s Romantic Comedy in Hollywood, from Lubitsch to Sturges, which I can’t recommend highly enough, and he makes a crack about how Paramount films of the thirties tended to fall apart in the third act with alarming regularity, something I hadn’t particularly noticed. But by God this film certainly makes that FEEL true, though in all honesty it starts falling apart shortly after the opening credits. Every time you think it can’t crumble any further, it manages to fracture a little more. Horton has some funny lines early on, so there was somebody of talent involved (asides from the design and camera department who make it all LOOK lovely — as Lubitsch said, “The Paramount Paris is the most Parisian”). My guess is the good stuff flowed from the typewriter of credited scribe George F. Marion, who has some amazing credits.

Some images ~

This last one, with the Venetian blind shadows infecting Cary’s robe, calls to mind THE CONFORMIST.

And because we need SOME quality to get us through the day, here’s James Harvey — who has little to say about this movie and who can blame him? — describing Grant and Constance Bennett in TOPPER ~

She is small and gleaming and sinuous: her body, draped in glittering bias-cut gowns, droops in a dramatic art-deco curve from shoulders to slightly out-thrust hips. She leans back, against a piano or a husband, with her long elegant fingers splayed and upraised, like someone who is always drying her nail polish. The effect is both voguish and feline. Grant, the one she leans into, is as big and dark as she is slight and fair. And there is something feline about him, too–a hint of danger, a look of sheathed-claw contentment. They look so smashing together that the production stills are almost better–certainly more elegant and suggestive–than the movie is. Grant’s role, practically a supporting one, doesn’t give him much to do, but with it he becomes an icon of thirties glamour and fun.

Good, eh?

Naked Constance Bennett Destroys Editing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2014 by dcairns

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THE COMMON LAW is an RKO-Pathe pre-code featuring a skinny, tousled, painfully young Joel McCrea (whose acting, however, is exactly as it would remain, which is to say, just great) as a painter in a Paris garret and a young, skinny, non-tousled Constance Bennett as his life model.

The story isn’t very interesting, though sometimes the dialogue is OK and the artists’ ball bit is a nice spectacle. There are two things of greater interest than either of those, though.

The first is the way Constance Bennett destroys the art of montage by disrobing. The movie is pre-code alright, but it’s not THAT pre-code, so that when McCrea is conversing with the nekkid lady, director Paul L. Stein (a minor German import) is compelled to cover the conversation from one side only, that of McCrea (today the temptation might be to go the opposite route). This has the effect of making the editor’s craft, elsewhere striving for invisibility, very much visible and indeed obtrusive. Bennett becomes a merely radiophonic presence, like a putatively unclothed poltergeist or something. The longer she remains invisibly naked, the more visible and the more naked Stein becomes.

Finally, Stein tracks away, way back, red-faced, to take in the whole scene and we might wonder what all the fuss was about, since CB is artfully draped…

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The other thing of note is Robert Williams, who would be elevated to leading man status in Frank Capra’s PLATINUM BLONDE, opposite Jean Harlow and Loretta Young. Close proximity to that pair might be more than many of us could handle, and Williams promptly dropped dead, before the film was even in cinemas.

It’s even more tragic than that cheap joke. Williams was a unique talent, with an odd voice, face and delivery, but so appealing and offbeat that he could conceivably have been a major star. Even if he’d simply sunk back into best pal parts (his role here), his quirky, almost Fieldsian delivery would surely have kept him busy in the Frank McHugh/Jack Carson type roles.

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Less interesting but noteworthy: Lew Cody, Hedda Hopper, and Yola D’Avril, who played an unending array of Fifis in early thirties Hollywood. OK, only three of her characters were actually called Fifi, but three is quite a lot. Al Pacino, one of our most versatile thesps, has NEVER played a character called Fifi, which gives you some idea.