Archive for Constance Bennett

Hollywood and/or Bust

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2022 by dcairns

Lowell Sherman, something of a forgotten star (he died too young) is wonderful in Cukor’s WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD?. So is Constance Bennett, who is better remembered, if not necessarily for the right film/s. Neil Hamilton does everything right except having any kind of charm or charisma. He’s actually very capable, but we couldn’t like him, which is maybe the defining distinction between an actor and a star.

The story was by Adela Rogers St John, who knew the Hollywood scene inside out as journalist and scenarist. And then you can add Rowland Brown, who also directed a few great pictures, the first writer-director of the sound era, excepting Chaplin; and Gene Fowler, Hollywood animal, and five other people. It definitely definitely doesn’t take eight people to write a good movie. It might help if you’re making a terrible movie, but this isn’t a terrible movie. It is a little uneven, and declines in interest whenever Sherman isn’t about, but the behind-the-scenes view of Hollywood is fantastic. Even this little stair leading between screening room and projection booth feels completely real. It easily could be, of course, but I bet they built it, because after all, this is Hollywood.

Lots of good lines, but every now and then there’s something better than a good line, something truer, like when Sherman is advised to stop drinking: “And be bored all the time?” he asks.

Visually, it still feels a lot like a pre-boom movie, tied to the microphone, but it isn’t, not in 1932. And the angles are better, because it’s a single-camera job and so they’re able to shoot everything from the proper spot, instead of compromising. There are only a half-dozen or so camera moves. But it’s not staid: there’s some wild fast cutting when Bennett, leaving the church after getting married to Hamilton, is mobbed by fans; Slavko Vorkapich provides a stardom montage. A rendition of Parlze-Moi D’Amour by Bennett is fragmented by cutaways of the whole apparatus of the studio set-up. And the suicide scene features experimental sound, flash-cuts, and slow-motion, an avant-garde tour de force.

What seems very typical of Cukor, even at this early stage of his film career, is that he can use an actor like Sherman who is very technical and full of schtick, and USE that to create a living human being. I mean, Sherman was very talented (pretty good director himself) and could breathe life into characters elsewhere with the same techniques, but there’s something extra here. Everyone here is typecast, but they transcend their types. (A shame Louise Beavers’ part is so true to racial stereotype, though.)

The funny (clever) thing is that Sherman’s role plays as comic relief through most of the film, but is the real tragedy, upstaging Bennett’s romantic drama or career travails.

WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? stars Marion Kerby; Greville Sartoris; Commissioner Gordon; Max Fabian; The College Cad; Delilah Johnson; Little Joe Jackson; Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Hyde; Bill Grimes; Detective Grimes; Mr. Hall; and Mr.Clink – Purser.

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?