?

Log in

The · Stuff · That · Dreams · Are · Made · Of


A Classic Film Journal

Recent Entries · Archive · Friends · Profile

* * *

Best Performance: Anna Novak, Black Fury

Karen Morley was such an underused actress. She was very good. Perhaps not quite as good as some other actresses of the time, and perhaps not as glamorous, but she deserved much better treatment than she recieved in Hollywood. Girlfriends, mob molls, tiny supporting roles where she didn't get the chance to really shine fill her career. She always played second fiddle (or sometimes thrid or fourth fiddle) to actresses like Greer Garson (in Pride and Prejudice) and Greta Garbo (in Mata Hari and Inspiration).

When she did get the chance to play the female lead, it was in films that didn't do much business. She sparkled opposite Franchot Tone and Walter Huston in Gabriel Over the White House. She did her best work as the female lead in Black Fury opposite Paul Muni. But even the female lead in that film was a small role. She was missing for the entire middle part of the film.

It's most likely her extremely leftist political views that got her little love in Hollywood. Even in the 1930s, long before communism was a huge issue in Hollywood, it was quite clear where Morley's sympathy's lied, especially when you look at some of the films on her resume. Gabriel Over the White House is practically a love letter to the destruction of democracy, a film where the President of the United states recieves some divine intervention and has the religious epiphany that it's a great idea to disband the Cabinet, and pretty much all of the government. Our Daily Bread and Black Fury are subtler films than Gabriel Over the White House, but looking at them it's easy to see why Morley was summoned by the House of Un-American Activities in the 1940s. Her career came practically to a standstill after the 1930s because of it.

Still, Morley is an actress who's always a joy to watch. She's charming onscreen, engaging in a way that a lot of actresses weren't, because she was so unglamorous. She seemed more like regular Joe movie goer than a bona fide movie star. She has an appeal that completely attainable.
Current Music:
Damien Rice - Eskimo
* * *

Cast: Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel, Ned Sparks
Director: Lloyd Bacon

Remember how I said musicals were often the most risque pre-code films? Well, they were, ESPECIALLY when there were dance numbers in them. Sexually suggestive songs could become 10 times more suggestive with visual aid, and dance was just that. Bebe Daniels' number "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me" seems innocent enough until you look at the number and realize it isn't just any love song. She's not talking about one particular guy. She's talking about several. It's not love she's talking about. It's running around with lots of different guys. And, in the dance, lost of different YOUNGER guys.

Couple this type of thing with some rather intense backstage politics, skimpy, barely-there costumes, and some brilliant lines of innuendo, and you have a musical pre-code masterpiece.
Current Mood:
groggy groggy
Current Music:
Fred Astaire - Dearly Beloved
* * *

Cast: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Wallace Ford, Richard Gallagher
Director: Clarence Brown

Yep, there's even more kept woman drama on this list! Hey, it was a staple of pre-code film. In the 1930s, Joan Crawford played mostly shopgirls and poor girls who made good by falling in love with a rich guy. Possessed is the best of those films. She's so amazing with Clark Gable. The two have undeniable chemistry, and they're scenes together sparkle with sexiness.

The kept woman issue was never handled quite as seriously as it was here. Films never really took a stance on the topic. But Clarence Brown's film looks at how the situation can begin to weat psychologically on the people involved. Sure, the girl's got a a great place to stay with lots of nice things without having to do anything, but she also lived with the knowledge that people talk about her because of what she is. And sure, the guy's got a pretty little number he can call on anytime he wants, but he has to deal with not only people talking the woman he might love, but also wondering if she really loves him back. And because it handles the issue so seriously, the romance is so much more rewarding.
Current Mood:
exhausted exhausted
Current Music:
Johnny Cash - One
* * *

Cast: Greta Garbo, Marie Dressler, George F. Marion, Charles Bickford
Director: Clarence Brown

Prostitution was a very touchy subject with the Production Office. They didn't like the heroine of the film to be a prostitute, and in the rare case that she was, the preferred it if she was met with some kind of punishment at the end. Often death. Anna Christie is a movie that simply wouldn't have been able to be made during enforcement. Despite the rather depressing nature of the film, things are looking up for the title character by the end of the film.

Greta Garbo's first talkie could have been nothing more than yet another stilted, clunky play adaptation of early sound film. But the characters here are so rich, so pained, and so human that everything in the film seems to have purpose. Even the awkward silences that, in other films, would be looked on now as beginner's mistakes in the new medium of film. Here they fit the character's awkwardness in their situations. It people trying to get to know each other despite their secrets.
Current Mood:
drained drained
Current Music:
Alanis Morrisette - Let's Fall In Love
* * *

Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charles Ruggles, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith
Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Pre-code musicals are always good fun. It's quite easy to make songs suggestive, so it's oftentimes the musicals that are the most pre-code-y films. Love Me Tonight is actually one of the tamer ones, but it's full of subtly sexy fun, something that filled all of the films Chevalier and MacDonald made together. I've always preferred MacDonald with Chevalier over MacDonald and Eddy. I always found the latter pair quite boring, whereas MacDonald and Chevalier were so sexy and fun.

Love Me Tonight has Chevalier as his typical ladies man in love. His opening song is one of the more rauncy numbers in the film, in it's little subtle way. Myrna Loy plays a man-hungry princess (she did a lot of that in the pre-code era), and there's the great scene seen above, where MacDonald must strip down to her underwear so Chevalier can make her a new riding outfit.
Current Mood:
discontent discontent
Current Music:
Kristin Chenoweth - You'll Never Know
* * *
* * *
NOTE: This entry is also doubling as the "Star of the Month Recommendation" for last week.


Cast: Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, Frances Dee, Kay Johnson, Reginald Denny
Director: John Cromwell

This is the last great pre-code film. It's a dark, sad, slightly disturbing tale of depression with great performances from its leads, Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. This is a bit of a different Davis than we're used to. She's not the smart, high class lady she usually is. And while it's not something new to see her play nasty, here, she's nastier than she ever was. Yes, I think she's even nastier here than she was in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Davis puts across a unique, kind of repulsive sexiness. There's sex appeal there, we can see why Howard is so attracted to her. But it's her attitude that makes her so vile. The character starts out as intriguing. He indifference to Howard does at first seem enticing. But as the film goes on, she becomes more and more horrible and unbearable. It's an amazing performance.
Current Mood:
bored bored
Current Music:
Louis Armstrong - Moon River
* * *

Cast: Robert Montgomery, Irene Purcell, C. Aubrey Smith, Reginald Owen
Director: Sam Wood

Out of all the films on the list, this is probably the best example of how much a film could get away with in the pre-code era. I watched this for the first time after I had become very aware of the era, and I was still incredibly surprised out how explicit it was.

This is the only film  I've ever seen Irene Purcell in, and I'm very, very surprised that she didn't make more films. She's beautiful, charming, and talented. Her chemistry with Montgomery is great. Their's is a sweet kind of sexy. Like so many films from this era, the romance starts off as antagonistic, so there is plenty of witty verbal sparring between the two and the tension grows.

And then it breaks. The two retire to the bedroom together, and begin to lie together on the couch as the lights go out. And the next morning the maid finds Purcell's nightgown at the foot of the bed.....ripped in half.
Current Mood:
blank blank
Current Music:
Ennio Morricone - Cinema Paradiso Theme
* * *
I am completely prepared to update for the past week I've missed. I was on a heavy combination of pain killers and muscle relaxers, so nothing I was writing was making much sense.

But, there is, as always, a problem. I was planning on doing the massive update last night. So I got all the pictures together in photoshop and saved. I didn't get a chance to do it last night, but I have the pictures for Monday-Saturday. But there was, yet again, photoshop trouble when I got on the computer this morning. I decided I was finally done with dealing with that crap, so I uninstalled photoshop and installed GIMP. But GIMP is a pain in the ass, I can't do anything I want to with it.

So I will update today for Monday-Saturday, but I won't have today's. I'm going to look for another program on my computer I can do this pictures with and update again as soon as I can.

I do have good news on this front, though. One of my friends is possible giving me his computer. (Thanks, Pat!) And while it's not much better than my computer, I figure I can wipe the hard drive and pretty much use it for just photoshop and maybe a few other programs. So there is hope on the horizon.
Current Mood:
annoyed annoyed
Current Music:
Frank Sinatra - Moon River
* * *

Best Performance: Alicia Huberman, Notorious

Ingrid Bergman would have excelled in the silent era. As good as she was at delivering lines, the greatness of her performances was always in her face. Her face held the true meaning of the words she was saying, and even if you weren't listening to the movie, you could tell what she was saying, by the twitch of her lips, or the wink of an eye. And it was never overstated. Bergman was one of the most subtle actresses ever to grace the screen.

She had a very soft, calm presence. Even when her character was sad, she was still able to light up the room, she was so luminous. And she was a real woman. Soft curves, not stick thin. And she never showed off her body as though it was more important than the rest of her. It was almost like she didn't fit right in Hollywood. She was so angelic and otherworldly. It felt as though Bergman was too serene and perfect to fit in with the wild, hectic atmosphere of the film-making world.

Bergman was so lovely that she could work with pretty much anyone, and have excellent chemistry with them. I can't think of a single one of her leading men that she didn't have some chemistry with. Even when some of her leading men were so different, she was able to sparkle with them. Cary Grant in Notorious and Indiscreet. Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bell Tolls and Saratoga Trunk. Robert Montgomery and George Sanders in Rage In Heaven. Leslie Howard in Intermezzo: A Love Story. It didn't matter who the man was. They always looked like they truly loved her.
Current Music:
Ella Fitzgerald - Why Can't You Behave
* * *

Cast: Constance Bennett, Robert Montgomery, Adolphe Manjou, Anita Page, Marjorie Rambeau
Director: Jack Conway

Sometimes a movie is needed to remind you that things don't always end in kisses and a promise of happily ever after. Even some of the best and most convincing love stories can end with one side walking out on the other. The Easiest Way is a film that shows these things, that movies don't always end happily ever after. But it also manages to show that no matter what happens, there's still hope in the end.

This is yet another Constance Bennett kept woman drama, but her character here is so much more drawn out and interesting than most of her others. She's a good girl, resistant to being kept by Menjou. But this is the Depression, and sometimes you take what you can get. You do it the easiest way.
Current Mood:
dorky dorky
Current Music:
Sweet Charity - Hey Big Spender
* * *
* * *

Previous