Archive for Robert Montgomery

The Private Eye, Like Some Strange Balloon…

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2017 by dcairns

Robert Montgomery’s film of LADY IN THE LAKE, from the Raymond Chandler novel, is so notoriously unsuccessful in its use of subjective camera as a narrative device (throughout the film, apart from the first shot — even the opening credits seem to be a POV shot) that there doesn’t seem to be anything new to say about it, unless we try to situate the problem elsewhere, invent or discover ways in which the approach ISN’T misguided and distracting, or just wallow in the weird effect the film produces. I’ll concentrate on the last option, with maybe brief stabs at the other two.

Montgomery would do a better job by far with RIDE THE PINK HORSE, his follow-up film, based on an excellent novel by Dorothy B. Hughes who also wrote the source book of Nick Ray’s IN A LONELY PLACE. But LITL is so obviously dysfunctional it’s pretty surprising it was released at all, in this form. I guess Montgomery really had clout at MGM. It’s pretty obvious to me that the film could be at least partially rescued by the addition of shots of Montgomery as Philip Marlowe, cut in as reactions and for key lines, allowing better control of pace and reduction of some of the more egregious performances. Of course, this would mean jettisoning the unique stylistic raison d’etre, but studios rarely had any problem with messing up a director’s vision if they thought it made a more commercial version of the story.

Opening titles: surprisingly Christmassy! And the final title card lifting away to reveal a waiting handgun is a nice little joke.

Montgomery’s piece to camera: he stresses the need to watch all the characters carefully and look out for clues, so the movie is really treating this as a fair-play mystery story, a guessing game, and the choose-your-own-adventure visual style fits this, I guess (except we don’t get any choice). When Hawks made THE BIG SLEEP he kept the book’s form, in which Marlowe appears in every scene, acting as our eyes and ears in a far less literal way, since he correctly decided that the audience needed access to all the same information as the detective in order for the plot to work. But, unlike Montgomery, he obviously moved past this a little, since he would later declare that plot didn’t matter, and the movie ended up, after reshoots, with a notoriously confusing, labyrinthine narrative. This kind of rethink is exactly what Montgomery doesn’t seem inclined to consider, sticking to his one big false good idea.

First Person Pooter: Marlowe goes to meet a publisher. In this radical reinterpretation of the character, Montgomery plays Marlowe as a man who has a slow and ungainly manner of opening doors. Every door in the film causes him to pause in apparent befuddlement, seek out the door handle with a slow tilt of the head, and then reach in awkwardly from as far to the side as possible, as if his arm were not attached to his body but instead coming in from somewhere to the side of him. Elliott Gould’s revisionist approach in THE LONG GOODBYE has nothing on this.

Now we get the first dialogue, and the novelty value swiftly wears thin as we see what we’re up against. The sexy secretary seems to change mood rather rapidly — which might make sense if we had some visual cue from Montgomery. Monty the director being Monty the actor’s worst enemy, he keeps his mug offscreen and can’t resist a cheap joke by having the camera crick its neck following the sexy secretary as she leaves the room. LADY IN THE LAKE, filmed with the wonder of Ass-Cam, the new miracle process! (The sexsec is Lila Leeds, whose career was ruined when she was busted for smoking dope with Robert Mitchum.)

Here we meet Audrey Totter, who is acting for two. The mercurial mood-shifts are fully in effect, with sudden, startling shifts in demeanour — flirtacious, then furious, then back to flirty. Maybe this is what being autistic feels like. I can see that her face is doing all kinds of weird stuff, but it doesn’t seem to mean anything.

This Marlowe is a dick, and not just in private. I don’t recall him being this smug, self-important and narrow-minded in the books. Without getting to see him being cool, he somehow just feels seriously obnoxious. Maybe inhabiting his celluloid shoes is revealing to me how much I secretly hate myself. Maybe accepting him as this cool, morally-superior knight in shining trenchcoat is impossible if he’s just Linda-Blaired his neck off to watch a cute girl leave the room. I want to someone to slap Montgomery’s camera, or his face, or both.

First Person Totter: One great long scene with Totter, made draggier by the Marlowevision approach, is followed by yet another, and the use of the word “yet” as in “yet another” feels entirely justified even though this is really only scene two. After struggling through the door, Marlow receives another info-dump from the lady who is now his client.

One gets used to Ozu’s technique of having characters speak into the lens pretty quickly, I think. Partly because everyone underplays and instates a kind of low-key naturalism that suppresses any discomfort. The weirdness in this film is augmented and revivified every time a new mug comes into the shot. Now Marlowe glides over to see Dick Simmons, and after the usual trouble ringing the doorbell, manages a stilted interview. Maybe the reason none of this is enjoyable — I can’t even be bothered looking for clues or trying to guess what’s going on — is that while watching Bogart irritate everyone gives us huge vicarious pleasure, inhabiting the source of irritation is uncomfortable, an obnoxious sensation of being hated by a series of anxious hams.

Still, at nineteen minutes exactly, someone finally punches Marlowe (in the forehead!), and the camera sways about, going out of focus and sinking to its geared knees as a kind of ominous male voice choir thrums on the soundtrack. Just as with Chandler’s prose, Montgomery’s visuals perk up markedly whenever the narrator loses consciousness.

The Bay City Gaolers: we awaken in the hoosegow. The camera blows smoke at a cop. No idea when we got the chance to light the cigarette. I think we’ve possibly been awake since before the fade-up, which feels confusing. Now we meet Lloyd Nolan, a proper detective actor and the most welcome face imaginable at this stage. Now, for the first and last time in cinematic history, Marlowe will be taunted and bullied by a cop, and we will be on the cop’s side. Marlowe being braced by the authorities plays better than most scenes so far, since there’s more than one person for him to talk to, and the actors have someone real to bounce off of (each other). But when the scene fades to black with the cops staring angrily at Marlowe, I did wonder if he’d lost consciousness again.

Through the Looking-Glass and What Marlowe Found There: Marlowe wakes up as he approaches another door. Apparently gaining in confidence, he shoves it open without bothering with the handle. More bulging-eyed looks from Totter. Once, more, the camera nearly unscrews itself from the tripod following the sexy secretary around. Marlowe contemplates his black eye in the mirror. A shame there isn’t behind the scenes footage of the camera staring at a big window pretending to be a mirror, with Totter haring around next door to looking-glass-world to act in a duplicate set in which everything is mirror-reversed. Except not quite — there’s a transition hidden so perfectly it can’t be spotted, so that Marlowe can pan directly from the reflection to the real Totter by his side. Neatly done.

The Private I: Now Montgomery as storyteller returns, talking directly to the camera (himself?). This seems a more stilted and interior way of covering the next sequence than a simple shot of the guy driving to the countryside would have been. Plus, we then get another two-hander with the wretched Totter, in which Montgomerycam explains what he just did, which we didn’t get to see. This may all be due to the same budgetary limitations which stymied Welles’ use of subjective camera in the planned HEART OF DARKNESS. I’m just saying that the effect is unfortunate.

BTW, while it’s impossible to regret RKO’s tight-fistedness, since it gave us CITIZEN KANE, I can see Welles’ HOD working a lot better than Montgomery’s LITL. The Conrad novella (which also stars a Marlow, come to think of it) has a morbid, ominous, incantatory quality which would fit nicely with long tracking shots and the alienation we get from not being able to see the protagonist. Everything which seems unfortunate in the Montgomery could be imagined working eerily in the unrealised Welles. The remorseless, steady pace (like a boat on a river), the necessity of long takes, the weirdly distanced affect, all would belong perfectly within the range of techniques Welles would show himself to be a master of.

Laugh, and the Camera Laughs with You: Yet another scene with Totter. Marlowe laughs sardonically in this one, and it’s a disappointment that the lens doesn’t jiggle up and down when he does so. Totter better turn out to be the villain in this movie or else Marlowe’s treatment of her is really going to be unforgivable. he’s already insulted her at every turn and leered at her secretary, now he wakes her up at 4am, insults her some more, laughs sardonically and doesn’t even have the courtesy to jiggle his lens

Lakey Lady: now, the plot does some serious thickening. Chandler plots often display a problem for adaptation — too many characters we never meet, who turn up as corpses, possibly even offscreen corpses. Truffaut praised Hitchcock for avoiding stories that give rise to that unwelcome sensation of “Who are they talking about again?” David Mamet, in his typically surly fashion, goes further: “Any time two characters are talking about an absent third, the scene is a crock of shit.” (Mamet goes too far, but not by much.) The trouble with LITL as a job of adaptation (credited to Steve Fisher — Chandler wrote a 195-page draft, but it’s never been used), is that it’s nothing BUT these kind of scenes / crocks of shits. Here, the lady is never seen, and neither is the lake.

Dramatic Reversal: But we do get Montgomery playing a scene with Totter and her stand-in, who has to mimic her movements exactly to look like a reflection. This stuff is fun enough, in a distracting way. Cocteau may have been taking notes. When he made ORPHEE, he couldn’t afford to get photographically reversed versions of the prints on Eurydice’s bedroom walls, but Montgomery has managed it here. The largesse of MGM.

The Not-So-Thin Man: Another scene, another doorway, another hammy woman. Jayne Meadows talks nineteen to the dozen and comes off like a maniac, but it’s Montgomery’s grating deadpan delivery that makes this feel still like a cut scene from a video game. After she’s gone, Marlowe climbs the stairs which, even with a “hidden” cut halfway to help him along, takes fucking ages. One expects to catch Montgomery’s reflection and discover he’s gained 300 lb. He’s making heavy weather of these stairs. Midway he starts whistling to pass the time. A little later, I started whistling too. A clock chimes. Yes, it is getting on a bit, come to think of it…

Marlowe reaches the top landing and slowly looks left and right. What we need is a pretty girl walking across frame to make the pan go faster. Finding a clue, he manages to squeeze both hands in front of his lens for the first time. His fat right hand and his thin left hand. The monogrammed hankie says AF, convincing me that the killer must be Allen Funt. The Candid Camera Case.

Bullet holes in a shower screen! The killer seems to have etched a crude rendition of a face with his bullets, as a kind of grim calling card! We’re looking for a man bearing a strong resemblance to an owl. Perhaps it’s Maurice Chevalier.

Late to the Party: Marlowe crashes a Christmas party at Totter’s publishing company and everyone stops their celebrations to stare at him. Maybe he HAS gained 300 lbs, or maybe it’s his mismatched hands that makes their eyes bulge. Then we go into the boss’s office for some tense dialogue played with Christmas carols as counterpoint, a nice idea. But these three-handed scenes with one corner of the triangle replaced by the camera are starting to remind me of the alarming TV play in FAHRENHEIT 451, the immersive, interactive extravaganza I call “What Do You Think, Linda?” With Robert Montgomery in the role of Linda.

The Totter romance, never a very convincing subplot (Marlowe makes her apoplectic and we don’t blame her) seems to definitively end, with Totter humorously veering out of shot to make way for Monty-cam’s vast bulk as he aims himself cautiously through another succession of doors. On the way out, he gets hired by a new client, Totter’s boss. Totter was angling to replace his wife. Now he wants his wife cleared of this murder and suggests framing Totter for it, which makes Marlowe mad. But he agrees to find the missing wife, whom we haven’t met. Gee, maybe she’s the lady in the lake.

Assisting the Police with their Iniquities: Marlowe meets the cops again at the house with the difficult stairs and the corpse in the shower and Montgomery, in a fit of madness, decides to play this scene with the vocal inflections of comedian Gilbert Gottfried. I guess he figures he’s the director, plus we can’t see him, so he can do as he likes. It’s Liberty Hall! A coroner arrives. Coroners are always fun in films noir. This one asks where the customer is, and is it a man or a woman, and expresses disappointment that it’s a man.

Marlowe now noises up Lloyd Nolan (he’s irritated everyone he’s met), who repeatedly slaps the camera,causing little jolting pans. I’d be happy if this kept up until the end credits. “Now I’m getting somewhere,” says Montgomery, and for once I agree. He’s getting whiplash. When he punches back, the cops put the bracelets on him — on his mismatched wrists. Since Marlowe’s arms always seem to belong to two different guys, I’m picturing a remake of THE 39 STEPS here, or THE DEFIANT ONES. Two men, handcuffed to himself.

The cops try to give the camera the third degree and Nolan, already having suffered the indignity of being punched by a movie camera, now gets kicked by one. The police chief takes a call from his little daughter who wants to recite ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas over the phone. And does so. While we watch, unable to even hear her. For a detective, Marlowe is remarkably incurious as he doesn’t even look idly around the room while this endless business is going on. After this, Marlowe annoys the police chief so much he releases him, a nifty trick. Fighting crime with the power of irksomeness.

Falling Between Two Tables: Slipping into the press room, the camera makes a phone call, so we get to look at the corners of two tables and a discarded hat for over thirty seconds. The craziest moment in the film, and my favourite. In the next scene he’s called back, and this time we get to look at Audrey Totter waiting for him to finish the call, which is more conventionally sensible, though Marlowe for some reason holds the mouthpiece in front of his eye. Then she leaves and we get another great shot of the mouthpiece and a door, which maybe Marlowe is figuring out how to open. These odd moments, when the film seems to have been abandoned by all its inhabitants and makers, are the only genius things in it. Montgomery is on the verge of a whole new kind of cinema, only actors keep wandering into shot and spoiling it.

Not At Home: The phone call sends Marlowe to a fresh interview at a fresh house, where he has to manage to ring the doorbell (Damn these sluggish, mismatched hands of mine!) But those strange shots of tables and doors have had a lasting effect. Now, Montgomery’s camera, drunk with power, is feeling liberated in a way the Germans never dreamed of. Supposedly talking to a seated woman, the camera decides to give equal weight to an empty chair and a corner. Exciting stuff. I think Montgomery wants us to feel the absence of the missing girl. But the missing girl could only either be in the chair or in front of the corner, if she was present, not both at once. I’m picturing a brace of missing girls instead. Maybe that’s the point.

Cargate: Some elaborate, effortful, but interesting business as Marlowe gets into his car, easing himself behind the wheel with all the nimbleness of a 35mm camera, as ominous music invades the soundtrack — it sounds like Ligeti, which is amazing. (It’s by David Snell and/or Maurice Goldman.) There follows the most avant-garde car chase on 1947, maybe of ever, a wacky stargate that almost justifies this whole film, climaxing with a smash-up, and Lloyd Nolan pouring whisky on the lens.

Talk is Cheap, Whisky Costs Money: Montgomery now takes over the narration again, telling us direct to our faces what happened next, but only for a moment. Marlowe escapes being arrested for drunk driving by punching a passing drunk unconscious and letting him take the rap instead. The eerie chanting music now accompanies Marlowe crawling around injured in front of a sign reading ZIPPO LUBRICATION, giving little pained gasps. The film is really picking up. The droning continues as the image keeps swimming out of focus and giving little dips to black as Marlowe crawls in the dirt towards a phone booth. That’s entertainment! This is the real stuff, as Werner Herzog argues in JULIAN DONKEY BOY. And just think, at the end of all this Lynchian abstraction, another subjective camera phone call! I’m in heaven.

Noscarface: Rescued, Marlowe regards his ravaged features in a hand mirror — in fact, he has barely a wee skelf on him, as we say in Scotland.  Subjective camera kiss from Totter — that never works, Plus, she’s such an ennervating performer in this. This recovery sequence develops into a strange Christmas day idyll, with Marlowe gazing at Totter through puffs of smoke he exhales, more choral music (gentler now) and Scrooge on the wireless. I don’t recall if the novel was this festive, maybe it was. Peculiar writing: Totter turns off the radio when the play ends, and says “And then when I was sixteen I had to go to work.” We’re forced to imagine she was telling her life story, paused to allow a play to be broadcast, then picked the story up where she left off, almost in mid-phrase. Unlikely.

Then the plot picks up again. Montgomery tries something risky when Totter has Marlowe repeat a phrase, and she moves her lips in time with the words. With no on-screen Marlowe, it kind of looks like she’s dubbed with his voice. But they just barely get away with it, partly because Totter’s perf has calmed down a bit.

Hairface: Marlowe finally meets the woman he was hired to find, and has a lengthy conversation with the back of her head. Not sure why Montgomery didn’t use reflections in the shop window, but again, I like the oddness. We start to suspect that there is nothing to this woman but a mass of hair, like Cousin It. Maybe that’s the solution — It did it. Finally we get the face, the big reveal, and Jayne Meadows holding a gun on us like the last shot of THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY. Marlowe recaps the plot, hoping to get her to monologue until the cavalry arrives. In fact, Marlowe disarms her himself, with a queer bit of speeded-up action. Meadows doesn’t seem like she ought to need accelerated motion, she acts in a kind of time-lapse, rattling off her lines as if they’re being typed in her head.

Then Nolan arrives and punches Marlowe to the floor, where he spends the next ten minutes. I wish Montgomery had the nerve to film the climax of his film sideways, the way it would look to a man lying down. I guess Marlowe must be on his back, propping himself up on his elbows. But it’s less visually interesting.

Rescue! Hurried happy ending! Montgomery talking to the camera again, then Totter comes in and we get to see them looking directly at each other for the first time in the film. We have about five seconds to judge if they have any chemistry together and then —

FADE-OUT.

Strictly Scarlet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2016 by dcairns

Good news, everybody! David Melville Wingrove is BACK, with another Forbidden Diva ~

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FORBIDDEN DIVAS

Strictly Scarlet

“It would be unusual…but then great ladies can do unusual things.” ~ Franchot Tone to Joan Crawford, The Bride Wore Red

In 1938, Joan Crawford – one of the most perennially popular stars in the annals of Hollywood – suddenly found herself labelled Box Office Poison by a group of disgruntled exhibitors. Of all the famous names on the list, hers was by far the most unlikely. Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were movie legends but never won over a broad public. Mae West had seen her raunchy humour watered down by the Production Code. Greta Garbo was a mythical goddess in need of some modern-day reinventing. But Joan Crawford had long been the factory girl’s favourite, a proletarian star who embodied the needs and aspirations of working-class women. Joan and Louis B Mayer, her all-powerful boss at MGM, must have been speechless with shock. What, oh what, could possibly have gone wrong?

They may have remembered how – a year before the list came out – MGM had starred Joan in a truly catastrophic flop. The Bride Wore Red (1937) was a dark-hued romantic comedy by Dorothy Arzner, the only woman director in the Hollywood studio system. An open lesbian and a stalwart feminist, Arzner was known for films with challenging and unconventional female leads. Katharine Hepburn as the silver-clad aviatrix in Christopher Strong (1933) and Rosalind Russell as the domestic tyrant in Craig’s Wife (1936) were not the type of girl a man would ask out for an ice-cream soda once the movie was done. They would doubtless sneer at vanilla and might even insist on paying their half of the tab. Not that Joan’s character in The Bride Wore Red would have any such qualms about letting a gentleman pay. She was a hooker – one disguised as a socialite, with a luxuriant Adrian wardrobe to match – but always, and unmistakably, a hooker nonetheless.

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Such casting was a step too far for Joan’s fans. Morally conservative and largely female, they would accept their idol as a showgirl or a shop girl, no problem. As a kept woman, perhaps, provided it was Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy who did the keeping. As a hooker, most definitely not! Joan had made that mistake once before in Rain (1932) with a smouldering portrayal of the South Sea island prostitute Sadie Thompson. No matter if it was by far the best of her early roles and she gave a performance to rival that of Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage (1934) – another hooker in another story by Somerset Maugham. The fans were horrified and Rain was a resounding flop. They had no idea the real Joan had been arrested repeatedly on ‘morals charges’ – back in the 20s, when she was still Lucille LeSueur. Or even that she had starred in hardcore pornographic ‘stag films’ before more legitimate movie roles came her way. All things considered, The Bride Wore Red was as close as a silver screen goddess could come to career suicide.

Nor can we accuse Joan or her director of doing it by half-measures. When she first appears, singing in a waterfront dive in Trieste, she looks downright sleazy. (Based on a play called The Girl from Trieste by Ferenc Molnár, the film takes place in a fantasy Mittel Europa that vanished with the Habsburg Empire.) Her hair, tumbling loose almost to her shoulders, plays up and sharpens the weird angularity of her face. Her tight black gown clings to her body like a skin, shiny yet obscurely unclean. Pinned to one shoulder is a clutch of tawdry white blossoms. Camellias, perhaps, but not the sort that Garbo would ever buy! An elderly roué named Count Armalia (George Zucco) summons her over to his table. It is clear that he has no sexual interest in her. Earlier on, we have seen him give a handsome, dark-haired waiter an unfeasibly large tip. He is a joker, an aesthete and a voyeur. All he wants to is to play her Fairy Godfather. To send her, all expenses paid, to a plush hotel in the Tyrolean Alps, where she may pass herself off as a lady.

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Soon enough, Joan is installed at said hotel under the name of Anna Vivaldi, an aristocratic moniker she picked up from a beer advert. Her suite is decorated in those dazzling shades of white-on-white that only ever exist in movies. (One speck of cigarette ash would throw the colour scheme off entirely!) The hotel manager is Paul Porcasi, that most camp and irascible of Hollywood character actors. Alas, the chambermaid (Mary Phillips) turns out to be an old comrade-in-arms from the whorehouse in Trieste. But she is a real pal who keeps Joan’s secret and allows Arzner to work in some of her trademark female bonding. Naturally, this being a Crawford vehicle, there are also two men on hand. Robert Young plays an upper-class lounge lizard in a tuxedo, whom Joan wants to marry. Franchot Tone plays a hunky postman in lederhosen, who wants to marry her. When he is not delivering letters, Tone enjoys blowing on a long and impressively phallic Alpine flute. We may remember that his nickname in Hollywood was ‘Jawbreaker’.

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Naturally, Joan found time for a spot of shopping before she caught the train to the Alps. Yet all the outfits she wears at the hotel are subtly (or not so subtly) ‘off’. For her entrance at dinner on the first night, she sports a ridiculous all-white bridal costume worthy of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. The gigantic daisy in her hair brings to mind the Bette Midler joke about walking around with a large fried egg on top of your head. Relaxing in her suite, she wears a shiny negligee with two enormous fuzzy puffed sleeves. She looks, honestly, as if she has shot and eviscerated two Muppets and is now wearing one of them on each arm. Yet her most outrageous fashion mistake is kept carefully in abeyance – hidden in her closet and seen only in short, subliminal glances like the monster in a Val Lewton movie. It is a sheer and shiny red evening gown, covered with sequins and oozing and dripping with sex. It is, in short, the perfect visual summation of who she actually is.

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When our heroine dons her red gown in the final reel, she does not look cheap or nasty. She looks resplendent. Unusually for a Joan Crawford vehicle, we have had to wait an hour and a half to see the star in an outfit that actually suits her. (Is anybody still wondering why The Bride Wore Red was a flop?) Striding brazenly down the grand staircase and into the grand salon, Joan is the focus of all eyes. The pallid socialites around her see her and stare and fall silent. The effect is at least as stunning as Bette Davis’s entrance into the Olympus Ball in Jezebel (1938), also in a blazing red gown amid an anaemic sea of white. What is more, Joan’s entrance in red took place a full year before Bette’s, even if it was never rewarded with an Oscar for Best Actress. At moments like this one, Bette’s implacable lifelong animosity towards Joan may almost start to make sense.

With its metaphor of hiding the truth about yourself in a closet – only to one day take it out and wear it proudly, and tell the prudes and puritans around you to go hell – The Bride Wore Red is one of the great symbolic ‘coming out’ movies. It is part of a tradition of covertly gay cinema that ranges from Hollywood melodramas like Now, Voyager (1942) and Splendor in the Grass (1961) to camp Australian comedies like Muriel’s Wedding (1994) and The Dressmaker (2015). It is also, quite possibly, Joan Crawford’s truest and rawest and most touching performance of the 30s – one of a very few roles to demonstrate that she was a Great Actress as well as a Great Star. Does anyone really need to ask which of her two co-stars she winds up marrying? Here’s a clue…she married him in real life as well, only he drank and beat her up and the whole thing was a disaster and did not last. The nickname ‘Jawbreaker’ was all too horribly prophetic. Like most of the iconic stars, Joan was far happier on the screen than off. Perhaps it was safer that way.

David Melville

First Blush

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2013 by dcairns

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The third in an informal trilogy (and really, everyone should make informal trilogies — they’re the best kind), following OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS and OUR MODERN MAIDENS, OUR BLUSHING BRIDES (1930) is the first full talkie in the sequence, and the earliest talkie I’d seen Joan Crawford in. (I’m now excited to see UNTAMED — as who wouldn’t be, with that title? — her very first speechifying role.)

Shaking up the familiar format of leggy girls and lush deco sets, the movie casts Joan and regular co-star/sacrificial lamb Anita Page as shopgirls, with Dorothy Sebastian completing the traditional trio. DS is really good in this, and it’s a shame she’s the one who slid into extra roles. The department store they work in (Crawford is a mannequin, her friends and flatmates sell perfumes and blankets respectively) is a relatively restrained, realist construction, so that we have to wait until the fashion show at the millionaire’s country retreat before we get any Cedric Gibbons elegance, but it’s worth the wait ~

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Uncredited director Harry Beaumont directs fluidly — there are some long “photographs of people talking” scenes, but also some propulsive tracking shots with overlapping crowd dialogue and a dynamic mix of synch and post-synch sound: an early lingerie pageant has a Greek chorus of female customers babbling over it, perhaps to fix the scene as a fashion show rather than a skin show in the censor’s mind. Whatever, it’s a pleasingly weird effect.

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Sociopolitically, we’re still in flux: the working girl stuff is quite Warner Bros, with sympathy for the gold-digging impulse (it’s what our current Glorious Leaders would call Social Mobility), but Joan is portrayed as the wisest of the three little pigs, the one who doesn’t trust men and won’t accept the advances of tiny-child-in-a-tux Robert Montgomery until he’s proved his intentions are honourable. Whereas Page and Sebastian both get royally taken by the predatory males they’re foolish enough to believe. This means we get to see Page’s shagging palace (above), a spectacular streamlined suite with leather-bound volumes just for show (“David says women shouldn’t ruin their minds with thinking,” gurgles Page), but the biggest treat is Montgomery’s tree-house —

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Yes. This is a tree-house. By Cedric Gibbons. What, no swimming pool?

You can buy the first two films in the series —

Our Dancing Daughters
Our Modern Maidens