Archive for Jean Harlow

Newshounds

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2017 by dcairns

“Whatever made Eddie Buzzell think he could direct?” mused Groucho Marx, a thought captured by the eager pen of Steve Stoliar in his essential memoir Raised Eyebrows. Like it had been bothering Groucho for thirty-plus years since making AT THE CIRCUS and GO WEST and he finally had to give voice to it.

I’ve been more inclined to give Mr. Buzzell a pass — he did some OK films with some nice shots in them. But looking at the original LIBELED LADY, which Buzzell remade as EASY TO WED, does make me feel a bit less charitable. Neither film is great, both have enjoyable moments, but Buzzell’s tends to miss the joke a lot of the time.

(You can expect a lot of late-thirties / forties stuff for a while as James Harvey’s book Romantic Comedy causes me to look up films that have passed me by.)

Sleeves by Dolly Tree.

Of course, Jack Conway doesn’t have a huge directorial reputation either, but he knew his business, I reckon. And he has the unbeatable William Powell and Myrna Loy to work with instead of Esther Williams and Van Johnson, and Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy in place of Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn. And best of all, he doesn’t have Ben Blue anywhere his version. Hate is a very tiring emotion, so somebody please name a film in which Ben Blue wasn’t a repulsive, unfunny bore so I can let go of this hate for him which is eating my soul.

“I didn’t think Spencer Tracy could do this kind of fast-talking newspaper thing,” said Fiona early on.

“Well, he can talk fast. I don’t know how funny he’s going to be,” I pondered.

“Oh he’s not FUNNY,” clarified Fiona.

But he’s not too bad. Outclassed by Wm. Powell, of course.

“I*am* too funny!”

Buzzell got the help of Buster Keaton for his main bit of visual comedy in EASY TO WED, as he had done for GO WEST. Conway and Powell work it out alone, and their gags aren’t as smart but Powell’s playing is a joy. The main fun in this, though, apart from Dolly Tree’s outlandish costumes (she mainly runs amuck on Harlow) is Loy, introduced with her back to the camera but instantly recognizable, and instantly FUN. Esther Williams could certainly be fun, but being a swimmer rather than an actress, she wasn’t as resourceful at finding the fun.

On paper, everyone in this story is kind of awful. Spencer Tracy stands Harlow up at the altar then makes her marry Powell for business purposes. Powell is trying to frame Loy on an adultery rap to kill off her libel suit against his newspaper. Loy ought to be sympathetic, but she and dad Walter Connolly (Cecil Kellaway in the remake) are terribly rude to Powell, BEFORE they know what a rat he is.

As you’ve never seen them before

What we have is the offspring of the hardboiled newspaper comedy and the screwball — unlike in THE FRONT PAGE and its offspring, nothing is really at stake here (the wellbeing of a muckraking newspaper doesn’t count) but the abrasiveness owes more to Hecht & McCarthy’s acerbic spirit than to the usual romantic comedy. In fact, Maurine Dallas Watkins, one of the writers, wrote CHICAGO — she has a bigger claim to inventing the newspaper comedy than anyone else. As the movie gets away from the newsroom and into the haunts of the wealthy, it does introduce a little more sweetness, but as the rich folks have been introduced as pretty tough, deceitful and boorish, we carry a lot of that sour feeling with us.

In both versions, the jilted bride is harshly treated and seems the most blameless figure. There are the usual dumb blonde jokes — when Powell marries Loy while still married to Harlow, her keen legal mind pounces: “That’s arson!” But her being dumb or common doesn’t justify any of the loutish treatment she gets from Tracy and Powell. It’s a colossal relief when Myrna is nice to her (as Harvey points out, Loy is always sympathetic to other women, always projects a sense of companionship rather than judgement). Sympathy may be the enemy of drama, as Alexander Mackendrick warned, but if you build a drama without any bonds of sympathy between the characters… you’re David Mamet.

Loy – instantly recognizable ESPECIALLY when incognito.

What I’m saying is that this is a rare case where I disagree with James Harvey, who likes this film more than we did. But the good news is, the original CHICAGO is playing at Bo’ness. THAT one I like!

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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.

More

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2012 by dcairns

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As Barbet Schroeder is always saying: MORE!

Lon Chaney’s last film gets the once-over at Awkward Early Talkie Theater — hilarious and unsettling as the film itself.

Brandon’s Movie Memory digs into the memory banks and digs up the last films of Von Sternberg, Von Stroheim, Lang, and an obscurity by Varda which you won’t find much other info on… is that a late film? Well, Agnes is no spring chicken but we’re all rooting for her to achieve a career of at least Oliveira-like duration.

And now, set your brains to Portuguese, or set Google Chrome to autotranslate, as SARATOGA (last film of Jean Harlow) goes under the microscope at Critica Retro.

Now set them back to English, as Thrilling Days of Yesteryear racks focus to Humphrey Bogart’s final bow, in THE HARDER THEY FALL.